Offshore Wind Farms Provide Out-of-Sight Power

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StatoilHydro's Hywind offshore wind turbine

Offshore wind turbines like StatoilHydro’s Hywind may soon be filling a good portion of our electricity demands.

“Not in my backyard” seems to be the standard hue and cry whenever a new large-scale wind turbine installation is planned. Inevitably, local municipalities field complaints from citizen’s groups and homeowners associations concerned about noise and aesthetics affecting property values.

While numerous independent studies indicate the concerns are unfounded, (any noise is usually outside the range of human hearing and no greater than that from typical industry, and property values may actually increase as citizens feel a sense of comfort from proximity to “green” power sources) that doesn’t stop opponents from blocking developments at every turn. StatoilHydro’s Hywind floating wind turbine as it will appear when anchored in the North Sea.

An alternative that’s gaining ground is offshore turbines.

Taking advantage of high, sustained winds, and designed for efficiency rather than quiet operation, these massive machines can produce twice the power of their on-shore counterparts. Anchored to the ocean floor and floating in water hundreds of meters deep, they also have the benefit of being out-of-sight and out-of-mind, overcoming the objections raised against their on-shore counterparts.

Leading the way with this new technology are Britain and Norway. Each already has pilot projects in place with new installations due to come on line in the next few years.

Britain’s Crown Estate, which oversees all land owned by the Monarchy, including the seabed surrounding the country, will lease blocks of land to private corporations for renewable power generation. The first two phases, already under development, are slated to deliver a total of 8 gigawatts of power. The third phase, projected to be completed by 2020, will add an additional 25 GW. The combined 33 GW will equal approximately one-quarter of Britain’s current electricity supply.

Of course, this capacity will not be cheap. It will require upwards of 5000 turbines at 11 sites and cost more than €80-billion ($157-billion US).

Meanwhile, Norway is pursuing similar goals. With its experience in offshore oil and gas platforms, Norway is ideally placed to exploit the abundant supply of North Atlantic wind that blows almost continuously along its coast, the second longest coastline in Europe after Greece.

One project, managed by the StatoilHydro Company, will be near the site of the first North Sea oil discovery 40 years ago. Turbines at the site will have a diameter of 107 meters (351 feet) and rise 80 meters (262 feet) above the surface, with another 120 meters (393 feet) of the floating concrete hull submerged. (By comparison, a Boeing 747 jet is slightly longer than 76 meters or 250 feet.)

It may be several years before these projects are able to turn a profit for their investors. In the meantime, the firms and conglomerates constructing and maintaining the wind farms will need government subsidies and protection from competitors supplying energy from cheaper, conventional sources. Fortunately, both Britain and Norway recognize the pressing need to support these initiatives and will offer subsidies and incentives to encourage development.

Given time, offshore wind farms like those in Britain and Norway may themselves become the conventional suppliers of global energy.

Jules Smith is the principal of LightningStrike Studios, a professional communications firm providing web site design and content, corporate documentation, and content marketing. His writing focuses on renewable energy and information technology.

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