Longer blades, taller towers, more powerful turbines: wind energy seems to be past the peak of innovation now, improving incrementally rather than with breakthrough. And yet none other than an oil company has ventured into a new field with massive potential: floating offshore wind.
The Norwegian petroleum ministry earlier this month approved a plan by Equinor to build and operate a floating offshore wind farm in the North Sea that will supply power to as many as five oil and gas platforms. The project is the first of its kind, but it would have significant implications both for offshore oil and gas and for offshore wind.
The facts: the Hywind Tampen wind farm, 140 km off the Norwegian coast, will have a total capacity of 88 MW with 11 turbines that will meet around 35 percent of the electricity needs of the two Snorre platforms and the three Gullfaks platforms. However, Equinor says that "In periods of higher wind speed this percentage will be significantly higher."
The $490-million (5 billion kroner) project will reduce the use of gas turbines for power generation, consequently lowering the emissions of carbon dioxide from the five platforms by some 200,000 tons annually and emissions of nitrous oxides by 1,000 tons.
That's certainly a sizable undertaking. It is unlikely to score Equinor many green points since the power generated by the wind farm will be used for extracting oil and gas from the bottom of the sea, but this is not the only purpose of the project.
According to Equinor, the Hywind Tampen wind farm will also be a test site for future offshore wind installations.