BP became the latest supermajor to join a key floating wind industry initiative as the oil and gas sector strengthened its presence in the fast-emerging market for foundation-free offshore wind.

UK-based BP joined the Floating Wind Joint Industry Project (JIP), led by the UK’s Carbon Trust, which includes many of the key players planning floating wind developments.

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BP has come from a standing start less than a year ago to become a major player in fixed-foundation offshore wind by buying a half-share in Equinor’s giant projects off New York and winning a share of new seabed rights off north-west England.

Joining the Floating Wind JIP means BP sits alongside fellow oil and gas giants Shell, TotalEnergies and Equinor, which are already members, as well as power sector heavyweights like EDF, Iberdrola, RWE and Vattenfall. Japan’s TEPCO is also a member, with compatriot Kyuden Mirai also now on board as a new member.

Some commentators expect the fossil fuel sector to play a more decisive role in floating wind than in fixed-bottom, due to its long track record in deep-water floating technology, some of which has been adapted to enable the new generation of turbine platforms.

BP has already said it will enter the forthcoming ScotWind round for new seabed leases that includes potential for development of both fixed-bottom and floating projects.

BP senior vice president engineering Aleida Rios said: “BP has always seen the benefit of partnership and collaboration, both in terms of technological advancement and delivering solutions at scale.

“In becoming a member of the Carbon Trust’s Floating Wind JIP, we look forward to contributing and furthering the advancement of floating offshore wind solutions, as we continue to grow our renewables portfolio.”

Challenges to growth

The Floating Wind JIP announced its new members as it released results of its latest work to identify the key technical challenges facing floating wind, which it forecast will grow to 126 megawatts of global capacity by the end of 2021 after the addition of the Kincardine project off Scotland.

The initiative cited three key areas where the sector needs to see progress to achieve the multi-gigawatt ambitions springing up across the globe.

The first is the challenges of heavy-lift maintenance in deep waters, including the relative motion of a floating turbine platform and a vessel.

The second challenge is in towing back to port, while the third comes in the critical area of mooring systems.

Sam Strivens, programme manager, floating offshore wind at the Carbon Trust said: “A series of pilot arrays and demonstration projects have helped to prove the technical feasibility of floating offshore wind. Several national governments have announced dedicated leasing and support for pre- and early commercial floating offshore wind deployment. The main challenge for the industry now is a commercial one.

“As we have seen in bottom-fixed offshore wind, our industry-led, collaborative R&D programmes have delivered significant cost reductions and de-risked technologies that accelerated commercialisation.”