Floating wind turbines – is this really a thing now?

Innovation continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible in renewable energy. 

One such innovation that’s been making waves, quite literally, is the concept of floating wind turbines. 

With the UK’s vast shoreline providing untapped potential for generating wind energy, these floating structures offer a promising solution to harnessing the power of the wind in deeper waters where traditional fixed turbines may not be feasible.

How do floating wind turbines work? What are their advantages and disadvantages? 

Let’s find out more about how these structures work, including the different types available, as well as their benefits in our latest blog. 

Floating wind turbines 

The idea of floating wind turbines may seem like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it’s very much a reality now. 

These turbines, unlike their fixed-bottom counterparts, are designed to float above the ocean surface, tethered to the seabed below. 

This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for offshore wind farms, allowing them to be deployed in deeper waters where wind resources are often stronger and more consistent.

One of the key advantages of floating wind turbines is their ability to access untapped wind resources in deeper waters. 

While traditional fixed-bottom turbines are limited to waters up to around 50 metres deep, floating turbines can operate in depths of hundreds of metres or more. 

This vastly expands the potential sites for offshore wind farms, making it possible to harness wind energy in areas that were previously inaccessible.

How do they work?

At their core, they operate much like traditional wind turbines, with blades that capture the kinetic energy of the wind and convert it into electricity. 

The main difference lies in their foundation. Instead of being anchored to the seabed, floating turbines use mooring systems to remain stable in the water while allowing them to move with the wind and waves. 

This flexibility not only makes them suitable for deeper waters but also helps reduce the environmental impact on the seabed.

There are four different types of floating wind turbines. Let’s look at the characteristics of each. 

Spar-buoy

The spar-buoy floating wind turbine consists of a cylindrical structure that extends below the water surface, resembling a buoy. 

This cylindrical portion called the spar, provides buoyancy to keep the turbine upright while submerged, with the turbine and tower mounted on top. 

The spar is anchored to the seabed using mooring lines, which provide stability against wind and wave forces. 

Spar-buoy designs are typically well-suited for deep-water applications and are known for their stability and relatively straightforward construction.

Tension leg platform (TLP)

Tension leg platform floating wind turbines use a platform that floats on the water’s surface and is tethered to the seabed using vertical tensioned mooring lines, known as tension legs. 

The platform remains stable by balancing the tension in these mooring lines, which counteracts the forces exerted by wind and waves. 

TLPs are often used in offshore oil and gas platforms and offer good stability and load-bearing capacity. 

They are suitable for a range of water depths and can be relatively cost-effective for large-scale wind farms.

Semi-submersible

Semi-submersible floating wind turbines feature a platform that is partially submerged beneath the water’s surface, with the turbine and tower mounted above the waterline. 

This design offers increased stability by utilising the buoyancy of the submerged portion to counteract the forces of wind and waves. 

Semi-submersibles typically employ a multi-column or pontoon structure, which provides stability and allows for significant motion dampening. 

This design is well-suited for harsh marine environments and can accommodate various turbine sizes.

Barge

Barge-based floating wind turbines use a floating platform that resembles a large ship or barge, with the turbine and tower mounted on top. 

These platforms can be either self-propelled or anchored in position, depending on the specific design. 

Barge-based turbines offer flexibility in deployment and relocation, as they can be towed to different locations as needed. 

However, they may require more complex mooring systems to maintain stability in rough seas. 

Barge-based designs are often considered for smaller-scale projects or temporary installations.

How do you choose? 

Each type of floating wind turbine has its advantages and limitations, and the choice of design depends on factors such as water depth, environmental conditions, project scale, and cost considerations. 

As the technology continues to evolve, advancements in design and engineering are expected to further enhance the performance and feasibility of floating wind turbines across a range of applications.

Where are floating wind farms used? 

The UK, with its extensive coastline and strong winds, is at the forefront of the floating wind turbine revolution. 

Projects such as the Kincardine Offshore Windfarm, located off the coast of Scotland, are already demonstrating the feasibility and potential of this technology. 

The Kincardine project, which features a floating wind turbine anchored to the seabed, has been generating clean energy since 2021 and serves as a testament to the viability of floating wind farms.

Support for floating wind turbines is also growing on a global scale. 

Countries like Norway, Portugal, and Japan are investing in research and development to further advance this technology and unlock its full potential. 

As the demand for clean energy continues to rise and the urgency to combat climate change becomes ever more pressing, floating wind turbines offer a promising solution to meet these challenges head-on.

Unlocking potential: advantages of floating wind turbines

Floating wind turbines offer several advantages over traditional fixed-bottom turbines. 

  • Access areas where the wind is consistent. One of the primary benefits is their ability to access deeper waters, where wind resources are often stronger and more consistent. 
  • Increase the number of wind farms. Floating wind turbines expand the potential sites for offshore wind farms, opening up vast areas that were previously untapped because of deeper sea beds. 
  • Better for the environment. Additionally, floating turbines have a smaller environmental footprint, as they do not require extensive seabed foundations and can be installed further offshore, reducing visual impact and minimising disruption to marine ecosystems. 
  • More resilient. Their mobility and flexibility also make them more resilient to extreme weather conditions, potentially increasing their reliability and energy output. 

Overall, floating wind turbines represent a promising solution for harnessing the power of the wind in a sustainable and efficient manner.

Counting the costs: challenges of floating wind turbines

Despite their potential, floating wind turbines also come with some drawbacks. 

  • Expensive. One significant disadvantage is the currently higher cost associated with their development, deployment, and maintenance compared to traditional fixed-bottom turbines. 
  • Complex to build. The complex engineering required for floating structures and mooring systems contributes to these elevated costs. 
  • Structural problems. Additionally, there are technical challenges related to the stability and reliability of floating turbines in harsh marine environments, which may require ongoing research and innovation to address. 
  • Maintenance logistics. Moreover, the logistics of installation and maintenance in remote offshore locations can be more challenging and costly, potentially impacting the overall economic viability of floating wind projects. 

While these disadvantages present hurdles to widespread adoption, ongoing advancements in technology and continued investment may help overcome these challenges in the future.

The promise of floating wind turbines 

Floating wind turbines are indeed a real thing now, and they represent a significant step forward in the quest for sustainable energy solutions. With their ability to access deeper waters and tap into previously untapped wind resources, floating turbines have the potential to play a crucial role in the transition to a low-carbon future. 

As we continue to explore and harness the power of the wind, it’s clear that the sky’s the limit for renewable energy innovation.

Of course, like any emerging technology, floating wind turbines are not without their challenges. The initial costs of development and deployment can be high, and there are still technical hurdles to overcome, such as ensuring the stability and reliability of the floating structures in harsh marine environments. 

However, with continued innovation and investment, these challenges can be addressed, paving the way for a future powered by clean, renewable energy.

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