Floating wind power could be cost-competitive with conventional bottom-fixed offshore plants next year, Wind Catching Systems (WCS) claims as it unveils an innovative multi-turbine concept for deep-water developments.

The new company, working with Norwegian contracting giant Aibel, has designed a new concept — a giant "wall" of 1-megawatt machines set atop a moored semi-submersible platform — which promises to “cut [offshore wind farm] acreage use by 80% [while] reducing production costs”, according to WCS chief executive Ole Heggeim.

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“The Wind Catcher will make floating wind competitive as soon as in 2022-2023, which is at least 10 years earlier than conventional floating offshore wind farms," he said.

"In co-operation with our main contractor Aibel, we will commercialise this groundbreaking technology that dramatically increases the efficiency of floating wind farms and cuts acreage use by 80%.

Cost competitiveness

“Our goal is to enable offshore wind operators and developers to produce electricity at a cost that competes with other energy sources — without subsidies."

Harnessing the “full energy” of high wind speeds in Europe's northern waters boosted by the Wind Catcher’s multi-rotor effect would make the new technology “five times as efficient as a conventional offshore wind turbine”, WCS said.

Each Wind Catcher would produce enough energy for 80,000 households, with an integrated substation in a “mother vessel” connecting all units and exporting power to land. There would also be the potential to adapt the field-level concept to a Power-to-X design for hydrogen production.

The unveiling comes in the wake of one of ACS’ main owners, Ferd, announcing it was teaming up with Arendals Fossekompani to set up a 50:50 joint venture called Seagust, with plans to bid in Norway’s upcoming offshore wind licensing round.

Ferd investment director Erik Bjorstad said: “The goal is to complete the technical testing and verification during 2021 and to offer commercial development solutions in 2022.

"Wind Catching has significant competitive benefits compared to conventional floating offshore wind technologies and we see great opportunities for the Norwegian supplier and export industry.”

Global reach

Rachid Bendriss, investment director at North Energy, which is also backing the WCS concept, said: “With [this] technology, offshore wind operators and developers will achieve the productions costs that they hoped to reach in 2030-2035 in a shorter time frame."

He adding that he envisages significant opportunities for the WCS concept for “major development projects in the North Sea, off the US West coast and in Asia in the coming decades”.

The WCS concept, which will have a design life of 50 years rather than the tradition 30 years engineered into offshore oil and gas designs, will cost “substantially less” to maintain than today's floating wind solutions, said the company, “and solve sustainability issues related to the recycling and reuse of turbine blades, marine resources and CO2 emissions from installation and maintenance”.

The levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of floating wind has dropped dramatically since the first utility-scale prototype was switched-on off Norway in 2009, but industrialisation of the technology hinges on an LCOE on the sector reaching €40 to €60 per megaWatt hour ($48 to $72 per MWh) this decade.

Multi-rotor concepts have been advanced by companies including OEM Vestas, but in the floating space these have generally been limited to twin-turbine designs.

Floating wind power projects totalling more than 26 gigawatts are on track to be turning by 2035, according to latest figures from Quest FWE, with the fleet expected to grow “exponentially” as the first wave of utility-scale developments now taking shape internationally are boosted by transitioning oil companies and ever-improving economics.

(This article first appeared in Upstream's renewable energy sister publication Recharge on 7 June, 2021.)