Floating wind is on the cusp of a huge transformation in Scotland as it transits from pilot projects to commercial sized wind farms. Scotland was home to the world’s first floating wind pilot project constructed back in 2017, Hywind Scotland. This pilot project has not only proved the viability of floating offshore wind in Scotland but boasted the highest average capacity factor for any UK wind farm in its first three years of operation. Now the 50MW Kincardine floating wind project is under construction off the coast of Aberdeen. This is set to be the world's largest floating offshore wind farm.
The Scottish Government's Offshore Wind Policy Statement published in October last year recognises that floating wind will need to play a prominent role in Scotland's transition to net zero by 2045, so what significance can we expect floating offshore wind to play in meeting that target?
The UK aims to install 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 (comprising at least 1GW of floating wind). The Scottish Government has committed a minimum of 11GW to be installed in Scottish waters. However, floating offshore wind is still in its early stages: only about 80MW of a total of about 32 GW (0.25%) of installed offshore wind capacity in the UK is floating, so clearly there will need to be exponential growth of floating wind in the next decade for that target to be met.
The ability to install turbines in deeper waters, where winds tend to be stronger and visual impact can be minimised, opens up huge amounts of the ocean to generate renewable wind power.
Almost 80% of Europe’s offshore wind resource is situated in ocean depths greater than 60 metres - too deep for bottom-fixed wind turbines - so floating wind technology promises to unlock a multitude of offshore wind generation sites surrounding Scotland’s coastline. With nearly three-quarters of the UK's forward pipeline of projects being situated in waters over 50km from shore, we can expect floating offshore wind to feature heavily within that development pipeline.
Closer to home, Scotland boasts one quarter of Europe’s total offshore wind resource, much of which is over deeper water, so there is enormous potential for the development of floating offshore wind in Scotland.
Through the ScotWind leasing round, the Scottish Government has offered the opportunity to begin developing large-scale floating offshore wind projects. It is estimated that commercial scale floating projects will account for 20-30% of ScotWind's total capacity.
Separately, the Crown Estate also announced earlier this year that it is commencing work to design and deliver a new leasing opportunity for early commercial-scale floating wind projects in the Celtic Sea. The leasing process will focus on projects of circa 300MW in scale – up to 3 times larger than any rights previously awarded to floating wind in the UK – demonstrating a new frontier for the sector and an important step towards the UK Government's ambition to deliver 1GW of floating wind by 2030.
Big hurdles certainly remain. Cost is a significant one. Floating offshore wind generation costs are currently about double those of fixed offshore wind, although these are expected to fall as technology advances and supply chains improve. Both Scottish Renewables and Renewable UK share the view that in the long-term floating wind will be the most cost-effective method of reaching emissions targets, achieving cost parity with their fixed-bottom counterparts by around 2030.
Seeing floating wind projects constructed and operating is a huge leap forward for the sector and only serves to highlight what has been achieved to date. The technical and construction challenges of offshore wind development are not to be underestimated, but with the success of the Hywind project, the Kincardine Offshore floating wind project set to generate this year and the outcome of the ScotWind leasing round expected early 2022, Scotland’s offshore floating wind industry is gathering pace. These projects are paving the way for more developments and providing the confidence in the technology, and in turn reduction in deployment costs, that are crucial to continued development.