top of page

Floating wind: Moving from innovation to industrialisation

by Tom Glover, RWE UK Country Chair

Tom Glover, RWE UK Country Chair

Having been considered an early stage opportunity for some time, the Floating Wind industry now stands on the brink of evolving into a mainstream offshore wind technology. While there may only be less than 100MW currently installed today, the 2020s will see gigawatts of capacity deployed around the world and we are confident this will increase to tens of gigawatts in the 2030s.

That does not mean the sector doesn’t still have important challenges to overcome. Indeed, the cost of floating wind needs to fall dramatically and delivery risks need to be reduced. However, as RWE, we can say with high confidence that this will happen, because we’ve done it before with seabed-fixed offshore wind. In fact, thanks to the learning we can take from the offshore industry gained over the last 20 years, the journey for floating wind is expected to be significantly quicker.

Innovation to industrialisation

To date, the floating wind industry has been largely focused on research and innovation, proving that floating units can survive in harsh sea states and that turbine performance is not excessively affected by the additional motion of a floating foundation.

Initiatives like the Carbon Trust’s Floating Wind Joint Industry Project, of which RWE is a founding member, have focused on fundamental issues: How can we replace a blade without a jack-up vessel? How do we design a dynamic export cable? And how do foundations scale with increased turbine size?

All of this has been necessary and immeasurably valuable, but the time has come to move past that stage and start making the transition to a focus on industrialisation that delivers at low cost with managed risk. There are not many companies that can do that, but we at RWE are one of them – we are a large business with a vast experience of offshore wind, having pioneered the sector for around two decades, taking projects from innovation to delivery.

The questions, therefore, now being asked are no longer “how?” but “how much?”, “how quickly?” and “how cheaply?”

A case study – the TetraSpar Demonstrator

A clear example of how this transition is beginning to happen can be seen in the TetraSpar Demonstrator - a 3.6 megawatts (MW) demonstration project being developed by a consortium of RWE, Shell, TEPCO Renewables and the designer, Stiesdal. The turbine and foundation were installed off the coast of Norway in July and will start generating power later this year.

Design company Stiesdal’s insight was to focus its innovations on industrialisation at the earliest stages of design. For example, all of the main components are produced offsite using existing, industrialised supply chains. In particular, the tubular sections can all be produced by the highly automated and competitive turbine tower and monopile supply chains.

Furthermore, these components can be delivered to a staging port where they are assembled quickly and efficiently using pin joints. This avoids the need for weather-sensitive welding activities and reduces the need for large (and expensive) port areas.

Stiesdal’s thinking was ahead of its time, but others are now following this same example, with an increasing focus on design-for-manufacture, as well as developing robust and expert supply chains.

The TetraSpar is just one of three demonstrator projects that RWE is progressing alongside the 2MW DemoSATH project in Spain, and the 11MW New England Aqua Ventus project in the US, And with the information we have gained from all three projects, we can now look ahead to future deployment from a strong position of knowledge.

Next steps

So, as an industry we’ve addressed a lot of the challenges, proved the technology and demonstrated that the innovation works. Now it is time to scale up and escalate the level of industrialisation.

RWE sees ScotWind as one of the next big chances to significantly deploy at scale. Realistically, the UK Government’s offshore wind targets cannot be met without the extensive deployment of floating and the majority will come from Scotland, and so we have a great opportunity to apply our learnings to early commercial scale projects. Industry has been innovating for the last 10 years; now we need to deliver these early projects and develop the experience of delivering at increased scale.

New industries don’t grow up overnight but floating wind is now on the cusp of a new phase of rapid growth. If the UK can grasp this opportunity and establish its position as an early industry leader, those companies at the forefront of floating wind will have a great opportunity to export their skills and expertise around the world.

Getting to this stage has taken a huge amount of necessary research and innovation but it is important that we now recognise a new priority; figuring out how to develop a local supply chain and maximise the opportunity to build cost-competitive, commercial-scale projects around the world.

To hear more from Tom Glover and over 40 floating wind experts, join us virtually at #FloatingWind21 from 15 - 16 September. Virtual passes start from £145.00. Register today:

RWE is one of the world’s leading renewables companies, driving the energy transition and with a target of becoming climate neutral by 2040. The company is a global powerhouse at the heart of the offshore wind industry, having pioneered the sector from the development and construction of some of its earliest projects including Blyth and North Hoyle offshore wind farms in the UK. Now, RWE is developing a 10 gigawatts (GW) portfolio of state-of-the-art offshore wind projects as part of an overall development pipeline of more than 30 GW of renewable energy, worldwide. RWE is a key partner in the development of Floating Offshore wind, with demonstration projects underway in Norway, the US and Spain.



bottom of page