Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC) said it will “pursue in earnest” plans to deploy the nation’s first floating wind plant in 2026, after the 200 megawatt Donghae-1 project passed a key feasibility study.

State-owned KNOC is leading plans for Donghae-1, which is slated for construction near an offshore gas field of the same name in Korea’s East Sea. It has attracted a heavyweight group of partners, including Norway’s Equinor, and local players Doosan Heavy – which is in line to supply the turbines – and utility East-West Power (EWP).

The project passed a preliminary feasibility study by the Korea Development Institute (KDI), KNOC said on Thursday, adding that it will now “respond to the government's Green New Deal policy and prepare for the transition to the future eco-friendly energy era by pursuing the Donghae-1 floating offshore wind power project in earnest”.

KNOC’s new growth project promotion manager Ahn Beom-hee said: “This is a meaningful starting point for a major transition from the era of carbon energy to the era of clean energy in the future.”

Equinor said in a statement: “We’re pleased with the positive results of the preliminary feasibility study on Donghae-1. Offshore wind, particularly floating wind, will play an important role in South Korea achieving its renewable energy goals, and we look forward to continuing our good collaboration with KNOC and EWP to progress the project.”

KNOC has deployed Lidar systems at the Donghae site since 2018, and the feasibility study included the possible use of a gas platform to act as the wind farm’s substation.

Offshore ambition

Floating wind is slated to help meet South Korea’s ambitions to deploy 12 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, and is seen by some analysts as better bet for the nation in the long-term than fixed-bottom projects, given its ability to operate further from shore and beyond potential flashpoints with fishing fleets and other marine users.

A number of consortia and alliances have sprung up in recent years involving international and local players, with several planning to be first in the water for South Korean floating wind, which is focused around the port city of Ulsan.

Equinor is also investigating the potential of an 800MW East Sea floating wind project called Firefly, while fellow oil & gas group Total has joined Macquarie to advance plans for more than 2GW off Ulsan and South Jeolla provinces.

The Asian nation has just 125MW of offshore wind currently operating, and its plans so far have been stymied by disputes and half-hearted policy support.

But the sector hopes the net-zero ambitions of President Moon Jae-in and his Green New Deal will kick-start major developments.

South Korea's wider offshore wind plans include a world-record 8.2GW complex off South Jeolla province, although analysts have raised doubts over the feasibility of the giant project.

(This article first appeared in Upstream's sister renewable energy publication Recharge on 6 May, 2021.)