There is every reason to believe that 2016 will see a series of developments for renewable energy, especially in new markets in offshore wind, according to Bruce Valpy, Director at BVG Associates.
The year ahead of us will see the commissioning of the first offshore farm in the US, at Block Island, off Rhode Island State. 2016 will also be the year in which the world’s first 7MW floating offshore turbine will start full operation off Fukushima, Japan, Valpy says.
Also, Siemens is expected to start constructing the first large-scale turbine component manufacturing facility in Africa, situated in Morocco.
More established markets will also continue to grow, according to Valpy. The Netherlands will more than double its offshore wind capacity and combined the UK and Germany will add almost 2GW of offshore capacity. The next round of Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions towards the end of the year will give a new horizon for the UK offshore wind industry for 2020 and beyond.
However, the offshore wind industry must continue its push towards subsidy free, driving down its holistic, full-life cost of energy, Giles Hundleby, Associate Director at BVG adds.
There are significant incremental cost savings from developments to the current horizontal axis turbine technologies mounted on fixed foundations, according to Hundleby.
This includes innovations in areas such as turbine size, two-bladed turbines, downwind rotors, transmission arrangements, repowering and life extension of projects.
Progress in many sub-components, from more robust power electronics to higher performing lubricants will also drive down costs. In combination, these evolutions are expected to deliver subsidy-free energy from offshore wind by the mid-2020s.
One might wonder why bother with so-called ‘disruptive’ alternatives, such as vertical axis turbines, multi-rotor turbines, floating foundations, float-out and sink foundations and airborne wind systems, The answer is two-fold, Hyndleby says.
Firstly, some of these technologies will expand the reach of offshore wind to areas not viable with current technology. For example, sites with very deep-water or very soft soils are not economically sustainable with conventional bottom-fixed, piled foundations.
Secondly, with some of these technologies, the potential cost of energy benefit is so significant that it justifies the potential development costs and risks.
According to Hundleby, the most interesting technologies in this context are airborne wind systems, for their potential to reduce costs through reduced material mass and access to higher wind speeds at higher altitudes, and new foundations, including floating foundations to open up sites with deep water and good winds close to population centres and float-out-and-sink foundations to reduce installation costs and risks
A high level of activity in both these areas has been seen so far, and that is expected to increase over the next few years, Hundleby says.
The pace of innovation in offshore wind is such that these will not be the only technologies that will see an increase in activity. According to Hundleby, the industry in 2016 and beyond must continue invest in both true innovation and in incremental improvement to drive down cost.
With both evolutionary and revolutionary innovation combined, the industry can cross the bridge to subsidy free and then establish as a truly global source of clean, safe, low-cost and local energy.