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Bright future forecast for offshore wind farms

Last updated on 07/11/2019
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Rosy pictures are often painted for the future of renewables but what makes this latest one stand out is the astonishing contribution it predicts the offshore wind industry is poised to make.

The International Energy Agency says by only using sites close to shore, wind turbines, which currently supply just a third of one per cent of global electricity production, could more than meet current world demand for power. Moving into deeper water, using floating turbines, could have a far greater potential.

Several factors are expected to drive a massive expansion. New offshore wind projects have capacity factors up to 50% as a result of larger turbines and other technology improvements. Along with relatively low variability in output, the IEA says this improvement in efficiency makes its system value comparable to baseload technologies which puts offshore wind in a category of its own – a variable baseload technology.

The levelised or whole life cost of electricity produced by offshore wind is predicted to reduce by nearly 60% by 2040. Combined with its relatively high value to the system, the IEA says this will make offshore wind one of the most competitive sources of electricity.

“In the past decade, two major areas of technological innovation have been game-changers in the energy system by substantially driving down costs: the shale revolution and the rise of solar PV,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “And offshore wind has the potential to join their ranks in terms of steep cost reduction.”

The European Union, already the location for 80% of the world’s offshore turbines, is poised to continue to lead the industry with at least a fourfold expansion of capacity by 2030. According to the IEA, the “growth puts offshore wind on track to become the European Union’s largest source of electricity in the 2040s.” In this sort of scenario there is the potential to use excess power produced to create hydrogen as part replacement for natural gas.

There is a major challenge to be faced however. Siting possibly hundreds of turbines off the coast of this island will inevitably require a strengthening of the grid in many scenic areas, a move which is likely to lead to protests from local communities and others.

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