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FCRN Blogs : GarrickStanford

Why are offshore wind farms booming?

With the search for the most effective source for renewable energy ongoing, wind leads the way with solar, biomass and geothermal technologies also offering viable options for cleaner energy.

With the search for the most effective source for renewable energy ongoing, wind leads the way with solar, biomass and geothermal technologies also offering viable options for cleaner energy.

The ongoing success of wind as an energy source is no mean feat within the current political climate. In addition to the various funding cuts for cleaner energy in recent years, there remains considerable scepticism regarding climate change - despite the devastating impact of hurricanes recently in the US.

In spite of all this, as well as ongoing debate around the effectiveness of wind power as a form of renewable energy, investment in offshore wind farms grew by 40% in 2016. But why is wind bucking the trend?

The advantages of wind farms (both on and offshore) are numerous, and benefits range from low economic and maintenance costs, to the impact upon the environment. As a natural resource, harvesting wind power, which is free and unlimited, is a low-cost method of generating energy without emitting any pollutants such as greenhouse gases.

This, however, has always been the case - with the low impact and costs the fundamental reason for using wind turbines to generate energy in the first place. So why are we seeing an increase in investment now?

One of the major downfalls which has always been associated with wind energy is that the technology was not yet advanced enough to offset high initial costs, which inflate the expense of offshore wind farms. The technological immaturity of wind turbines has also previously led to increased maintenance costs, meaning that offshore wind farms can be expensive to both install and maintain.

As technology develops, however, offshore wind turbines are becoming more efficient and effective. Additionally, the size of the turbines able to be installed offshore are getting bigger, with more energy able to be generated thanks to a higher turbine capacity.

Technological advances also mean that wind farms can be set up further from the shore, and in deeper waters, due to the development of floating turbines. The world’s first floating wind farm was set up earlier this year off the coast of Scotland, using an underwater ballast and mooring lines to keep the turbines upright.

Traditional fixed-based turbines can only be installed at a maximum depth of 40 metres, meaning they only work in limited locations. The innovative floating wind farms, however, open up a host of additional locations in deeper waters, and can deployed in depths between 100 and 700 metres.

Opening up additional locations for offshore wind farms has numerous benefits, aside from the obvious increase in energy generated. Placing floating turbines further out to sea also reduces the aesthetic impact associated with wind farms, which many consider to be intrusive in scenic environments.

Currently the cost of offshore wind farms is still relatively high, due mainly to the expenses involved in setting up the turbines. As technology has developed however, these costs have started to drop, and are projected to do so even further in the future.

As costs come down, and benefits go up, expect to see further investment in offshore wind farms as a viable source of renewable energy.