Growing numbers of countries looking to ramp up floating wind capacity in coming years, attracted by its huge potential to capture strong wind speeds, an industry report has claimed

Floating offshore wind presents an “enormous opportunity” to help wean the world off its fossil fuel dependency in the coming decades, with a number of new markets emerging that are rapidly scaling up investment in the burgeoning technology, according to a major new report from the wind energy industry.

The study from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) touts floating offshore wind farms – which enable turbines to be stationed further out to sea in deeper waters where wind speeds are stronger, as they are not fixed to the seabed – as a key component of efforts to deliver net zero emissions by mid-century.

At present, the most mature markets for floating wind technologies include the UK, France, South Korea, and Japan, but the report highlights a “chasing pack” of five other countries which looks set to rapidly accelerate the deployment of floating turbines, including the US, Italy, Ireland, Morocco, and the Philippines.

The technical potential for floating offshore wind “dwarfs” that of conventional, fixed-bottom turbines and the global race to develop the technology is already well underway, according to the report.

The global market could be “huge”, according to the report, which estimates that 80 per cent of the world’s offshore wind resource potential lies in waters deeper than 60 metres.

Future projections point to a rapid scale-up in capacity over the coming decade and beyond, with GWEC last year forecasting 16.5GW of installed floating wind capacity worldwide by 2030, a significant scale up from its estimate just a year earlier of 6.5GW.

Advocates of floating wind technologies have long maintained that the sector has the potential to slash renewable energy costs stiull further, as floating turbines can both access more powerful and reliable winds and do not require costly foundations, leading to lower material and installation costs. The attractiveness of the sector has been further strengthened by rising commodity costs and the success of a wave of pilot projects in recent years.

However, GWEC’s report today stresses that political leadership is still urgently needed to kick-start the sector in many markets, as at present floating wind remains a nascent technology and a relatively small market, with global installed capacity standing at around 17MW in 2020.

Henrik Stiesdal, chair of GWEC’s Floating Offshore Wind Task Force, said floating wind was “at an exciting point in its journey” but that having proven the efficacy and reliability of the technology, it was now time for the industry and policymakers to work together to accelerate delivery around the world.

“Floating offshore wind can bring low carbon electricity and economic opportunities,” he said. “This report identifies five countries around the globe that could move rapidly to become floating offshore wind leaders. But it also shows that with the right policies floating offshore wind can have lift-off in many countries across the globe.”

While the most significant growth in offshore wind is still expected to be seen in conventional, fixed bottom offshore wind farms in the 2020s, the report envisages “rapid acceleration” in the deployment of floating offshore wind from 2030 onwards.

At present, the UK is among the leading pack in the global floating wind market, but it risks being rapidly caught up by the countries that are looking to ramp up investment and ambitions in the technology, such as the USA, Italy, Ireland, Morocco, and the Philippines, the report said.

These five countries have a huge combined floating wind technical potential of over 3,861GW, which vastly exceeds any of their individual energy needs, the report contends. Potential capacity in Italian waters, for example, is 2.6 times higher than Italy’s annual electricity demand, while in Ireland capacity could theoretically be 69 times higher than the country’s annual power demand.

As such, GWEC CEO Ben Backwell hailed floating wind as a “vital tool” in decarbonising the global economy. “While the focus of this decade is rapid growth of fixed offshore wind, we also need to see political leadership so that large scale floating offshore wind is ready to play its part in the 2030s and beyond,” he said. “As countries look to grow their renewable capacity in order to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, it is crucial that embracing new technologies is part of their roadmap. This is key to ensuring the potential for renewable energy is fully exploited.”

The study was carried out on behalf of GWEC by research and analytics company Aegir Insights, with sponsorship from oil and gas giant Shell. It comes in the same week as MPs in the Conservative Environment Network wrote to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng urging him to increase the UK’s target for floating wind deployment. Meanwhile, ScottishPower and Shell announced the launch of a £50m supply chain stimulus fund for their two ScotWind floating turbine projects, Marram Wind and Campion Wind, and the Crown Estate confirmed it has completed phase two of its ongoing engagement with the market and stakeholders, seeking input to plans for up to 4GW of floating wind leasing in the Celtic Sea.

If it can navigate the currently stormy seas of the global energy market it is increasingly clear that floating offshore wind technologies could be both the next big thing and a major boost to global decarbonisation efforts.

Want to find out more about how the net zero transition will impact your business? You can now sign up to attend the virtual Net Zero Finance Summit, which will take place live and interactive on Tuesday 29 March and will be available on demand for delegates after the event.

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