Statoil greenlights world’s first floating wind farm

Statoil said Tuesday it will build the world’s first floating wind farm offshore of Scotland after testing the technology for several years and working to reduce project costs.

After installing its first large-capacity, operational wind turbine floating offshore in 2009, Statoil said the project costs have reduced by more than 60 percent. The Norwegian energy giant said for roughly $235 million it will install a 30-megawatt wind farm on five floating turbine structures offshore of Peterhead, Scotland.

The Hywind Scotland wind farm will power around 20,000 households when it comes online in late 2017 as a pilot farm, the company said.

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While there are several offshore wind farms with fixed-bottom turbines, there aren’t any floating farms. Floating turbines are connected to cylindrical buoys moored by cables that can be located farther offshore in deeper waters where wind strengths are greater.

“Statoil is proud to develop the world’s first floating wind farm. Our objective with the Hywind pilot park is to demonstrate the feasibility of future commercial, utility-scale floating wind farms,” said Statoil Executive Vice President Irene Rummelhoff in a prepared statement. “This will further increase the global market potential for offshore wind energy, contributing to realizing our ambition of profitable growth in renewable energy and other low-carbon solutions.”

In 2013, Statoil pulled out of a $120 million project for four floating turbines offshore of Maine, opting instead to focus on Hywind for now. So Statoil has eyed the U.S. as well as Europe.

The pilot Hywind farm will cover around 2.5 square miles, at a water depth of 300 feet to 400 feet.

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Scotland’s deputy first minister, John Swinney, expressed optimism about the growth potential for floating wind.

“The momentum is building around the potential for floating offshore wind technology to unlock deeper water sites,” Swinney said in a prepared statement. “The ability to leverage existing infrastructure and supply chain capabilities from the offshore oil and gas industry create the ideal conditions to position Scotland as a world leader in floating wind technology.”

Some companies are even studying ways for wind to power the production of oil and gas. Norway-based DNV GL partnered with Statoil, Exxon Mobil Corp. and others on the “WIN WIN” joint industry project to use floating wind turbines to power offshore oil and gas production in areas like the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

While admittedly not viable yet, DNV GL said the technical analysis phase is expected to be finished in the first quarter of 2016.