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Offshore wind technology takes off

Costs have been falling rapidly and are expected to decline by a further 30% by 2030, leading to an expected growth in installed capacity to 128 GW by 2030 and 521 GW by 2050

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The capacity factors for offshore windfarms are high, says IRENA
The capacity factors for offshore windfarms are high, says IRENA

Offshore wind energy is in the fast lane and picking up speed. Driven by rapidly falling costs and technological innovation, offshore wind capacity grew by 25% between 2016 and 2017.

The potential of offshore wind to meet energy demand, stimulate economic growth and generate employment, a criteria that he described as hallmarks of the global energy transformation, is now not in doubt.

Compared to other renewable energy technologies, offshore wind still makes up a small part of global power generation. Today, there is slightly less than 19 GW of installed offshore capacity, two-thirds of which is generated by G7 countries, but the global growth trend is impressive, said IRENA as reported by offshore Wind Journal.

“Costs have been falling rapidly and are expected to decline by a further 30% by 2030, leading to an expected growth in installed capacity to 128 GW by 2030 and 521 GW by 2050. Investment in offshore wind could reach $350bn by 2030 and potentially $1.47tn by 2050,” says Adnan Z. Amin, the director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Speaking at the recent Oceans Partnership Summit during G7, Amin said “Offshore power has wind in its sails as it has now developed into a commercially mature technology. If growth trends continue along with more enabling regulatory environments and standardisation it will be key for global efforts to decarbonise the energy sector and meet climate objectives.”

“G7 countries have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership by further accelerating the development of offshore renewables, while reaping its socio-economic benefits.”

As Amin points out, prices awarded in auctions in 2016 and 2017 for projects that will come online by 2020-2022 range from US$0.06 to US$0.10 per kilowatt hour. This steep decline in costs is driven by lower capital costs, technological innovations, and economies of scale. In G7 countries, auctions have become the policy instrument of choice for deploying offshore wind, and the numbers suggest this is also contributing to declining costs.

“Overall, accelerating the deployment of renewable energy would significantly stimulate economic activity additional to the growth that could be expected under a business as usual approach,” he says.

IRENA’s Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050 concludes that a growth of the global share of renewables in total primary energy supply to two-thirds by 2050 would increase global GDP by US$52Tn while creating approximately 19M new jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency and grid enhancement.

It says offshore wind projects create ample opportunities for local value creation. Income and jobs can be maximised by leveraging existing economic activities and building upon domestic supply chains. Education and training, however, must be attuned to emerging needs in the offshore wind industry.

According to IRENA, developing a typical 500-MW offshore windfarm requires around 2.1M person-days of work. Manufacturing takes up 59% of the labour requirements of such a project, followed by operation and maintenance (24%) and installation and grid connection (11%). Factory workers account for more than half of the labour needed in manufacturing.

Offshore wind development also benefits from synergies with offshore oil and gas, specifically in terms of skills and occupational patterns. Successful job migration between sectors, however, depends on dedicated retraining policies.

Specific policy measures, such as upgrading and supplier development programmes, support for joint ventures, or industrial promotion schemes, may be needed to strengthen the industrial capacity of domestic firms.

“Renewable energy development can drive economic growth, create new jobs and enhance human health and welfare at the national level,” says IRENA.

An IRENA report of September 2018, offshore innovation widens renewable energy options, notes that the increase in turbine size helps to increase windfarm output. These larger turbines with larger swept areas yield higher capacity factors for the same resource quality.

The capacity factors for offshore windfarms are high, says IRENA, with the average of new projects to have 50% capacity factors by 2022 as turbine size grows and the technology improves. Further gains are possible, as 12-MW turbines are in development that are significantly larger than today’s largest 9.5-MW turbine.

“Offshore wind power also offers a solution to space and acceptance issues in some markets,” says the report. “This makes offshore wind power a particularly attractive proposition given its ability to scale and the fact the decreasing cost of electricity for new offshore wind projects means that new projects can often now compete directly with fossil fuel-fired electricity without financial support.

“New technology developments such as floating foundations will increase the economic potential of offshore wind technology by opening up larger areas to development than are currently feasible with fixed-bottom foundations.”

The report says that floating windfarms “unleash the potential of deepwater offshore wind power, relevant for countries with limited continental platform areas, such as Japan.”

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