We spoke with our Offshore Wind Specialist and thought leader, Anna Hilden, for her insight into the latest changes and advances within the industry, specifically how the US can capitalize on existing experience in Europe.
Offshore Wind is expected to grow by more than 20 percent annually over the next several years, and floating wind farms definitely open up new growth opportunities.
The Hywind project uses a spar buoy design, but there are also other well-developed approaches to floating foundations. Since 2009, Statoil has had a prototype in the waters off the coast of Stavanger — one turbine with a similar spar construction — and that’s been very successful. It has produced very well compared to its size, and shown that it’s stable enough to withstand strong winds and storms. StormGeo provides weather forecasting services to Hywind Scotland and continues to develop our technology alongside the industry.
Furthermore, there are areas of the world where floating foundations are the only option, such as the steeply shelved coastlines of the US West Coast, the Mediterranean and Japan, where fixed-bottom foundations often aren’t feasible. So in these areas, the future is almost completely centered around floating foundations. I think the industry continues to be at a point where different opportunities are being looked into for improved efficiency and cost, so this technology seems very promising.
The general view within the industry is that the US players need to build on European experiences. Currently, the US has its first and only wind farm, Block Island Wind Farm, off Rhode Island, which is relatively small at 30MW with 5 turbines.
There are some promising developments for floating foundations in the US due to bold investments. These are expected to be off the East Coast, in the Great Lakes and/or off the West Coast.
In the US, you have areas where you need to be prepared for hurricanes and other severe weather phenomena that Europe doesn’t have to that degree.
During the Formosa 1 project in Taiwan, we at StormGeo gained experience in how to work under these types of tropical conditions. The project owners set up two turbines in 2016 in the middle of typhoon season, which created some challenges, but we were able to support them. We are now forecasting for two additional wind farm projects in Taiwan, the wpd projects Yunlin and Guanyin, and are building up our experience along the way. When development begins in areas of the US that are prone to hurricanes, we will be ready to support them as well.
As I mentioned, the first Offshore Wind developments in the US are starting on the East Coast, where the weather conditions and wave patterns are much like those of Europe. This means that we know what technologies to use, and the set-ups can be more or less imported from Europe – that goes for weather forecasting services as well.
After the East Coast, development will start in the Great Lakes, where ice conditions will present special challenges. Our experience within ice-prone areas around the world, including the Arctic Ocean and the Caspian Sea, will assist us in forecasting for these new projects.
The Gulf of Mexico is where you may have issues with hurricanes and severe weather that is unique to the US. At StormGeo, we have tropical weather expertise and are prepared for these conditions. We have one of, if not the most, advanced tropical forecasting setups available in the market, which has already been utilized in the US for Offshore Oil and Gas as well as our Onshore activities.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are good examples, where we worked day and night to help our clients get through the events safely. The catastrophic consequences of both hurricanes show how vital it is to have expert weather insight and resources available in order to help businesses and, most importantly, people. That is an aspect of our job that everyone in StormGeo is extremely focused on and proud of.
Yes, I believe many companies are studying this possibility of transitioning very closely. Specifically, smaller providers see that they have opportunities in Offshore Wind — there are operators, small vessels, companies doing geophysical studies, environmental studies — a lot is transferable.
Ørsted is a great example of this connection between the two industries. They came from Oil and Gas, but became experts in Offshore Wind. In 2017, they sold their entire Oil and Gas division to focus purely on Offshore Wind.
StormGeo experienced a similar transition ten years ago when the first contracts in Offshore Wind were made. Prior to that, StormGeo had been forecasting for the Oil and Gas sector for over 20 years.
Compared to Oil and Gas, Offshore Wind farms are closer to shore, meaning that predicting waves, winds, weather and current can be more complex due to coastal effects. These conditions present challenges that you won't see in the middle of the North Sea, for instance. But for StormGeo, it was a fairly easy leap — we could build on what we had been doing already in Oil and Gas.
We now have expert industry knowledge and a track record of over 60 Offshore Wind farms from Europe, along with a global forecasting setup. Currently, we are manning up in Offshore Wind in both Asia and the US and are very excited to be able to support our Offshore Wind clients there, as well as in Europe where it all started.
Hero image credit @Brooke Carney, NOAA