Floating offshore wind power: Why the future in Scotland is buoyant

Scotland is a great place to kickstart floating wind across the globe, according to the project director of what is set to be the biggest floating offshore wind farm ever built.

The 100MW Pentland scheme will be located around 4.5 miles off the coast of Dounreay in Caithness. With seven 14MW turbines, it will generate enough renewable electricity to power around 70,000 homes – equivalent to 64 per cent of households in the Highland Council area.

Richard Copeland, who is leading the team for international renewables developer Copenhagen Offshore Partners, believes the scheme will set the stage for a massive expansion of the sector at home and abroad.

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“It’s a small project in terms of the number of turbines but I think it will really deliver beyond its size in terms of what it’s going to achieve for the sector,” he said.

Pentland is a massive opportunity for Scotland, to have a project that will be the blueprint for floating offshore wind in the future. We’re looking at deploying new technologies that will reduce costs, help us scale up and speed up, and also help mobilise the local supply chain on floating wind.”

Scotland and the UK are already forging ahead in the realm of fixed-bottom offshore wind, where turbine foundations are connected directly to the seabed via steel or concrete structures – much like conventional oil and gas platforms. But there are limits on where these can be located, with water depths of more than around 70m out of bounds.

That’s where floating turbines come in. Tethered to the seabed by mooring lines and anchors, these can be located in deeper seas.

The UK has set a target to have 50GW of operational offshore wind by 2030, with 11GW in Scottish waters and 5GW to come from floating turbines. There is currently around 12.7GW of offshore wind connected across the UK.

Located in seas off the far north coast of the Scottish mainland, the 100MW Pentland floating offshore wind farm will be the largest of its kind in the world when completed -- able to power around 70,000 homes

Fixed-bottom offshore wind prices have already come down dramatically over the past ten years or so, making it now cheaper than solar and onshore wind. And it’s expected that floating offshore wind will follow the same pattern as the sector expands.

“I think there’s a huge home and international potential for floating wind,” Copeland said. “The issue with the technology at the moment is that it needs to go down the cost-reduction curve, speed up and scale up.

“Pentland is officially a demonstration project but it’s really more of a commercialisation project. We’re not demonstrating that the technology will work because we know it works.

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“What we’re demonstrating is how to reduce costs and industrialise it. In order to do that we will be doing a number of world firsts.

Richard Copeland, project director of Pentland floating offshore wind farm, says the scheme will act as a blueprint for the future of the sector in Scotland and across the world. Picture: Jon Norddahl

“Scotland has all the fundamentals because we’ve had all that oil and gas and deep-water construction heritage. It is a great place to kickstart floating wind across the world.”

When complete, Pentland will become the world’s biggest floating offshore wind farm. Norway’s new 94.6MW Hywind Tampen scheme currently holds the title, which it recently lifted from the 50MW Kincardine array, off Aberdeen.

Scotland is also home to the world’s first ever floating wind project – the 30MW Hywind scheme, off the Aberdeenshire coast, which was powered up in 2017.

“We need floating wind if we’re going to continue to decarbonise,” Copeland said. “There is a huge amount of wind resource in deeper waters.”

And the Pentland project can teach us how to build at scale and put in place the support needed to realise Scotland’s offshore wind expansion plans – 17 projects have been granted seabed leasing rights through the ScotWind scheme, with more to follow.

The idea of using Scottish and UK manufacturers and suppliers is not just a hope, according to Copeland, it will be a necessity.

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“We are already starting to see governments and companies all around the globe interested in offshore wind,” he said.

“We really need to localise because demand is going to exceed supply. We need to have good local, competitive suppliers to actually enable us to build offshore wind at the scale we need to, here in Scotland and worldwide. I think we are well positioned to do that.”

If consented and bids for the next round of Contracts for Difference are successful, the first turbine – standing 300m from sea level to rotor tip – will be in the water and powered up in 2025.

Projections suggest the development will generate economic benefits of £419 million over its 25-year lifespan, with up to 1,300 jobs created during construction and 85 at the operational stage.

Copeland insists Pentland and furure offshore schemes, including the Scotwind projects, will help solve most of the current problems facing our energy system – high bills and fears over supplies caused by the war in Ukraine and climate change.

“What renewables will achieve in the broadest sense is energy security – it is home-grown, low-cost energy. A long time ago there was a question whether offshore wind could be competitive. That question has now gone – it’s the lowest-cost energy generation.”

He admits that grid and infrastructure updates and reform of the UK electricity market to decouple green electricity from gas are needed to reap the full rewards from renewables.

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“We keep saying that 2023 is going to be the year of floating wind, where Pentland and other projects will kickstart the next generation of big floating projects and they will move forward in a big way.

“Pentland is a precursor of what is to come. What we do on the project, both for ourselves and for the industry, will help enable some of the upcoming Scotwind projects.

“Projects like Pentland will help us understand exactly what needs to be done to enable the bigger projects to be built.

“Speeding up, scaling up, reducing the costs and localising – that’s what we’re aiming to do on the Pentland project.”

Nick Sharpe, director of communications and strategy at Scottish Renewables, said: “It’s now well understood globally that Scotland is a market leader when it comes to floating offshore wind.

“Not only are we home to the first ever floating offshore wind farm – the 30MW Hywind Scotland project that has been operating successfully for almost three years – but in January we learned that 13 of the 20 new offshore wind projects granted seabed rights by Crown Estate Scotland will use floating technology.

“Floating is at the early stages of a period of rapid growth, which has seen Scottish supply chain companies make their move into this sector.

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“Project developers are now beginning to engage with the supply chain and while Scottish companies are still winning work in fixed projects, it’s clear that the biggest opportunity lies in floating.

“It’s an exciting time for our industry as Scotland’s offshore wind industry goes from strength to strength and we’re confident that Scotland will retain its lead in a floating wind market which it's vital to develop if we're to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.”

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