But developers must first solve two key technical problems, according to the French operator of the electricity grid.
Sea swells can cause vibrations that damage equipment in floating substations, while cables can be damaged by a build-up of shells and algae, the Electricity Transport Network said. These problems must be addressed before floating wind power can be successful on a large scale, and RTE is among the operators trying to solve them.
This nascent segment of the clean energy industry would significantly expand the potential areas of the sea where energy producers could install turbines. In many places, the best wind resources are found in water too deep to build a structure from the seabed. But the new floating technology is expensive and at risk of damage from waves and marine life.
Substations are used to change the voltage of electricity produced by offshore wind farms so that it can be delivered more easily and safely to land. One solution under study is a floating version capable of withstanding strong swells, said Régis Boigegrain, responsible for maritime affairs at RTE, responsible for connecting French offshore turbines to the network.
“As long as we know how to technically do this,” it would avoid the substantial cost of building a substation on the seabed, he told a conference.
Such a substation could be considered for two projects in the Mediterranean Sea, which the French government plans to launch next year, according to Boigegrain. RTE is working with partners such as the French shipyard Chantiers de L’Atlantique to see whether the floats can sufficiently absorb swells and minimize vibrations.
This competition will be one of the first big chances for developers to build a large-scale floating wind project. It could attract utilities such as Electricite de France SA and Engie SA, as well as oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SE, which have invested in smaller-scale projects to develop their expertise with the technology.
The high-voltage cables will also need to be strong enough to withstand swells, as well as “biofouling” – the build-up of shells, algae and sponges – which can be so heavy that they cause damage. said Boigegrain.
The challenges of growing the offshore wind industry are not limited to France. Earlier this year, developer Orsted A / S discovered that cables at a wind farm off the coast of the UK had been damaged by scraping against rocks on the seabed.
Both countries – and South Korea – have the greatest opportunities for floating wind this decade, according to a BloombergNEF report.