THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
The results so far from the floating wind demonstration projects around the world are encouraging and have drawn the attention of governments and industries interested in offering investment and operating aid. To keep progress moving forward, however, multiple challenges will need to be overcome.
First and foremost, floating offshore wind will need to move from expensive demonstration projects to a commercially viable model. For that to occur, floating foundation offshore wind designs must become cost-competitive with other forms of electricity generation, and especially fixed-bottom designs. Operational costs also must be considered. Because the cables that tether the floating structure to the seabed must be continuously monitored for corrosion and wear, operational expenses for floating structures may be higher than those for fixed structures.
Attention to cost reduction strategies, including ways to achieve economies of scale, are needed to drive down costs. Research and development efforts that focus on cost and risk reduction, along with supply chain optimization, should take priority.
The good news is, progress is being made. Based on the pace of current efforts, there might be little or no cost difference between floating and fixed-bottom foundations by 2026. At a recent industry conference, panelists suggested a 50/50 split globally between fixed-bottom and floating foundations by 2050.
Beyond achieving cost parity, it will take the combined efforts of policymakers, investors, researchers and energy industry members to develop strategies and policies to overcome barriers to market entry, improve the technology outlook, and garner more public and private investment. It remains unclear who will take the lead in driving the market forward. Will investment come from existing private developers or new original equipment manufacturers behind the technologies? What role will governments play in incentivizing and supporting new floating offshore wind projects? If projects are delayed and commercialization stalls, who — if anyone — will step in?
These are all questions that must be asked and answered to fuel floating technology’s deployment, cost competitiveness and long-term success.
Because the market is still young, public and private U.S. groups have the potential to take a global leadership role in market development. Floating technology offers great potential as a U.S. export opportunity. Given the nation’s resources and rising interest, it is well within reach.