Global floating wind turbine market outlook
Despite impact of the world-ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, six wind farms entered commercial operation in the first half of 2021. As shore areas with lower developing costs gradually saturated, and capacity connected to the grid of each region reached a limit, many countries shifted focuses to floating wind turbines. European countries taking the lead, with the U.K. contributing 50% of the installed floating wind turbine capacity in the world. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Asia are catching up. The two regions are in urgent need for floating wind turbine technology, not only to acquire firmer stance in the market, but also to realize their net zero goals in face of environmental restrictions.
Floating wind turbines can better capture wind energy resources. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 80% of potential wind power exist in water deeper than 60m. As shown in the table above, more than 50% of offshore wind potential in the U.S. and China can be accessed by floating wind turbines. In Japan, Norway, Spain, and Italy, deep waters account for more than 90% of offshore wind potential.
Floating technology can access more untapped wind resources than fixed wind foundations. This can be attributed not only to the stronger, stabler winds it enjoys far off the shore, but also to some countries’ lack of shallow waters. For instance, Norway’s fjords are perfect for ports but unfitted for wind turbines that are anchored to the ocean floor on fixed foundations. As a result, underwater foundations are not economically beneficial due to lofty costs. Floating wind turbines, on the other hand, replace underwater foundations with floating platform and bollard systems, and thus less likely to be affected by the depth of water.
Differences between costs of floating wind turbines and fixed foundation turbines will narrow by 2050. For example, WindFloat Atlantic, a 25 MW floating wind farm entereding commercial operation in Portugal in 2020, saw USD 237/MWh of levelized cost of energy. The figure will drop by 17-35% from 2019 levels by 2035 and 37-49% by 2050, estimated by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Just like fixed foundation turbines, the key to cost reduction for floating wind turbines lies in the increase of turbine sizes. Meanwhile, as more and more manufacturers use and produce floating wind turbines, large-scale wind farm development and wind farm cluster management can help reduce grid connection and construction costs, and thus reach economies of scale. Additionally, competitions among the supply chain will accelerate the standardization and cost reduction of components.
Status quo and policy support in major markets
The UK government has set an ambitious offshore wind target to reach 40 GW of capacity by 2030, and 75 GW by 2050. The country expects to develop wind farms in deep waters with floating technology to achieve the goal. For that, the U.K. funneled GBP 24 million for floating wind farms in the Contracts for Difference Allocation Round 4, setting a GBP 122/MWh (USD 166/MWh) of administration strike price.
The U.K. is one of the leading nations in developing floating wind farms. The U.K. leverages its experience in oil and natural gas extraction in the North Sea to build floating wind turbines. Presently, the U.K. accounts for half of the installed floating wind capacity worldwide. Hywind Scotland, a joint effort of various countries, is the world’s first commercial floating wind farm. It has 30 MW of capacity and 57.1% of capacity factor, the highest in the U.K. Hywind Scotland significantly adds up installed capacity in the U.K., securing its leading position in the European floating wind farm market.
In 2020, France pledged to bring offshore wind capacity to 5.2-6.2 GW by 2028 and allocate 8.75 GW of capacity through tenders for both fixed foundation and floating wind turbines. In France, optimal wind farm sites locate mostly in western and southern seas, such as South of Brittany. Presently, four floating wind farms in France are scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2022. These wind farms have signed contracts with the government for an FIT rate of EUR 240 MWh and exported relevant technologies to other countries such as Norway and Japan. Their advantages can be attributed to companies such as IDEOL and Naval Energies, which applied experiences in maritime engineering and oil and gas industries to build floating wind turbines. IDEOL is one of the bidders for floating wind farms in South of Brittany and will be involved in floating wind farm development in Taiwan.
France has outlined a tendering schedule for commercial floating wind farms. The first commercial floating wind farm will initiate business selection procedure in 2021 and enter commercial operation in 2027, with 250 MW of total installed capacity. As for other three floating wind farms in the Mediterranean Sea, business selection will start in 2022, commercial operation in 2030, and will release 1 GW through auction each year during 2024 and 2030 for both floating and fixed foundation turbines.
The Biden-Harris Administration aimed to reach 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. To achieve the goal, fast development of floating wind turbines is with crucial importance, as water depth plunges to 60m and deeper on the west coast of the U.S. Given that, both Federal and State Government provide more direct supports for floating wind turbines. In 2019, the Department of Energy introduced the ATLANTIS program, funding more than USD 100 million for twelve research projects. It also offered USD 40 million to the demonstration project of Aqua Ventus I. Meanwhile the Maine Public Utilities Commission signed a Power Purchase Agreement with Aqua Ventus I to guarantee future revenues of the latter.
The U.S. has far less fixed foundation turbines than Europe and wishes to catch up with the latter with floating wind turbines. Aqua Ventus I is expected to complete construction by the end of 2022, followed by seven floating wind farms, three in Maine, two in California, and two in Hawaii. The U.S. also sees headway in designing floating wind turbines. In May 2021, supported by the ATLANTIS program, GE Research unveiled a floating wind turbine design and is building the prototype.
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan has been dedicated to replacing nuclear with renewable energy. Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga introduced “Carbon neutral and the Green Growth Strategy,” aiming to reach 10 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. Japan is surrounded with deeper waters that are ideal for floating wind turbines, such as areas off the shores of Hokkaido, northeastern, and Kyushu regions.
Floating wind turbines in Japan is jointly developed by the industry, governments, and academic institutions. In 2020, the Japanese government canceled FIT for fixed foundation turbines, whilst floating wind turbines enjoy JPY 36/ kWh (USD 322/ MWh) of FIT rate. During 2011 and 2020, Fukushima Offshore Wind Consortium, led by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), invested JPY 60 billion in building the very first floating wind turbine in Asia in collaboration with various institutions such as MITSUI & CO., Hitachi, and the University of Tokyo. Thanks to Japan’s matured heavy industry, Hitachi successfully produced floating wind turbines with 2 MW and 5 MW of capacity, whilst Mitsubishi manufactured floating wind turbines with 7MW of capacity. However, these turbines were not commercialized. The one created by Mitsubishi was damaged during testing due to its inability to withstand waves. While their cooperation has ceased, METI continues to promote floating wind turbines. As of 2021, five demonstration wind farms with 19 MW of floating wind turbines have been connected to the grid, second to the U.K. in the world. The Japanese government expected them to enter commercial stage in mid-2020.
The South Korean government declared to reach 12 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, among which, 6 GW will be contributed by floating wind turbines. Optimal water areas for floating wind turbines deeper than 60m locate on the east coast of South Korea, such as Shingori and Ulsan, where lie demonstration turbines with 750 kW and 5 MW of capacity, respectively. Additionally, President Moon Jae-in announced in 2021 that the government will invest KRW 1.4 trillion (USD 1.17 billion) to develop wind farms in Ulsan and utilize existing drilling platforms to build floating wind turbines. Its capacity is expected to reach 1.4 GW by 2025.
South Korea promotes the development floating wind turbines with Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), and public fundings. RPS and RECs do not provide direct policy supports for floating wind turbines, but RECs is of advantage to floating wind turbines, for the further away a wind farm locates off the shore, the higher REC weightings it enjoys.
As fixed foundation market saturated and floating wind turbine technology matured, InfoLink believes the latter will drive the growth of offshore wind industry. Floating wind turbines are adaptable in waters more than 60m deep, capture winds more effectively, whilst staying away from coastal waters, where stockholders’ attitudes diverge. Presently, floating wind turbines still see higher power generation costs than fixed foundation ones, However, as the gap rapidly narrows, floating wind farms are going to be seen across the globe.
Against this backdrop, countries will shift policy supports from fixed foundation wind farms to floating wind farms. Some markets set clearer short-term targets. Both the U.K. and South Korea set capacity goals specifically for floating wind turbines for 2030. France does not have a target for floating wind turbines but requires floating wind farms to wean from policy protection and compete with fixed foundation wind farms under auction system by 2024.
Most markets directly invest demonstration floating wind farms to help manufacturers survive the valley of death or raise FIT rates to entice manufacturers into venturing with new technologies. Under such framework, both the U.K. and France saw fair outcomes. In Japan, however, installed capacity grows slowly, with lackluster bidding activities, as compared to France. This may have to do with foreign developers’ cultural maladaptation and the inability to tap into local networks.