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A brief diary about an interesting development in offshore wind technology.

Wind is a leading sector in renewable energy construction, but offshore wind energy is still a long way behind. At the end of 2006, just 1.5% of the installed turbine capacity in IEA Wind member nations was located offshore. Even countries with huge ocean-sited wind potential like Ireland and Portugal (which are both investing heavily in the renewable source, each now getting almost 10% of their electricity from wind from nothing a few years ago) are still without a commercial offshore wind farm.

There are two major factors are holding ocean-based wind back: expense and water depth. Turbines built into the ocean floor are very heavy, can require specialist heavy-capacity equipment for installation, and are generally limited to areas with a maximum water depth of around 150 feet.

The innovation that will most likely break these barriers is the floating turbine, which has the potential to significantly reduce the expense of offshore wind  and increase the coastal ocean space where wind farms can be located. This week, that innovation took a step forward.

As AFP reports, Dutch company Blue H is installing a large-scale prototype of its floating wind turbine.

World's first floating wind turbine launched in Berlin

BERLIN (AFP) — A floating wind turbine that its makers claim could significantly boost the renewable energy sector was officially launched at a trade show in the German capital on Wednesday.

Dutch company Blue H Technologies said its invention, which adapts technology used in offshore oil rigs, was a world first.

It will soon go into operation off the coast of Puglia in southern Italy.

The turbine off Puglia will be in water more than 100 meters deep. Blue H (website: www.bluehgroup.com) has plans to follow this with a 90 MW capacity floating-turbine wind farm in the same area, with the first turbine to be installed "in the fall of 2008."

From the Blue H press release, advantages of their floating turbine design include:

  • reduces significantly the overall weight of the structure, a huge element in cost component of offshore wind units
  • can be assembled onshore and then towed out far offshore, at distances of 10 nautical miles or more and positioned in deep waters
  • does not use the heavy equipment needed to build structures into the sea bed: such heavy equipment is both expensive and in short supply – particularly crane ships and jack-up barges
  • allows a localization far enough from the coast to benefit from stronger and more regular winds (thus reducing the cost per kWh)

This is just one of many floating wind projects around the world, and Blue H will cetainly have competitors.  It's looking like offshore wind's current status as a tiny player in renewable energy is soon to change.

Originally posted to retrograde on Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 09:54 AM PST.

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