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The Godfather of Wind

An interesting article about offshore wind, anchored by a short biography of the "Godfather of Wind", Henrik Stiesdal.  With the huge potential for generating electricity being further and deeper than fixed platforms can economically manage, there is a race to develop floating turbine platforms.  There is already a pilot project of five turbines off the coast of Scotland in the North Sea, being operated by Equion ASA.  

The International Energy Agency estimates that floating platforms could help provide enough electricity to satisfy the world's electricity needs 11 times over, based on expected power demand in 2040. 

From an infrastructure point of view, it is interesting that the technological lead may come from the knowledge accrued by the oil and gas industry in terms of building and installing floating platforms.   The key point is to keep the turbines in the right position; as the article suggests, a slight rotation of the platform moves the blades out of the wind.  There is therefore a reliance on cables and anchors which can be put out at sea in water as deep as 1,000 meters (but the deeper the anchors, the higher the cost).  

From a land perspective, floating platforms far offshore could reduce significantly the objections to onshore and near-offshore structures in terms of visual amenity and noise impact.  There will still be the need to bring the electricity onshore (so landowners should still be expecting a knock on the door in respect of cable easements) and potential storage issues still arise. 

Financially, the article raises questions as to whether there will be state subsidies to assist in development in this sub-sector of offshore wind.  There are likely arguments either way as to whether subsidies help or hinder the competitiveness and innovation and manufacturing knowledge required to reduce the cost of generation.  Companies will have to work to bring down those costs, with or without subsidies and the number of floating platforms manufactured will likely need to increase.  

Nevertheless, despite the potential difficulties, as Stiesdal suggests, “The cork is coming off the bottle [and] with the cost reductions we’re seeing, we’re outcompeting with all kinds of fuels. You can’t build gas-fired plants and coal plants and nuclear plants that can match wind."

“The mantra I’ve had myself was we need to change the question from, ‘How can we afford it?’ to ‘How can we afford not to?’  ”

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