IEA predicts steep offshore capacity rise

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Offshore wind could become a cornerstone of the world’s power supply as steep cost reductions and improved technology unleash the potential of the green energy source, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The report, Offshore Wind Outlook 2019, predicts that global offshore capacity may rise 15-fold by 2040 and become a USD780 billion industry.

Erecting wind turbines at the world’s best offshore sites would provide enough energy to power the world, according to the new report.

The IEA claims in its annual report that 36,000 terawatt hours of renewable electricity could be produced annually if the sites were developed.

The sites identified were no more than 60 km from a coastline and no deeper than 60 m. “Offshore wind currently provides just 0.3% of global power generation, but its potential is vast,” said IEA executive director Dr. Fatih Birol.

He added: “Our analysis shows that 40% of the work in offshore wind construction and maintenance has synergies with oil and gas practices.”

This development is a chance for dredging companies. According to the International Marine and Dredging Consultants (IMDC), the construction of a wind farm often includes dredging works for levelling the seafloor at the foundation locations, pre-trenching part of the cable route to assure sufficient burial depth during the lifetime of the project, the creation of foundation pits in case of gravity-based foundation, and to cross navigation channels with the electrical cables.

“Today’s IEA report is a strong endorsement of offshore wind,” said Giles Dickson, CEO of industry association WindEurope. “They’re spot on in showing how falling costs and technology development have made offshore wind an obvious choice for countries as a source of energy”.

“The numbers the IEA envisages for Europe are actually conservative. They say 130–180 GW by 2040. But we’ll already have 90 GW by 2030, thanks to the increased commitments governments have made since they started writing their national energy and climate plans. The EU Commission’s eight scenarios for 2050 envisage between 230 and 450 GW by 2050, and that’s what we’re aiming for,” said Dickson.

To drive development further forward in the UK, which already has a viable offshore wind farm landscape, the country’s Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult has launched a Floating Offshore Wind Centre of Excellence to drive forward the development of next-generation offshore wind technologies.

The initiative is backed by up to GBP500,000 funding each from the Scottish government and the Catapult’s Welsh-based Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence, match funding from industry, and active support from Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.

According to Dr Birol, the huge promise of offshore wind is underscored by the development of floating turbines that could be deployed further out at sea. In theory, they could enable offshore wind to meet the entire electricity demand of several key electricity markets several times over, including Europe, the United States, and Japan.

“The global shift to renewable energy is well under way, including large-scale deployment of offshore wind farms. There are already about 3,600 turbines operating along European coasts, with 14 more wind farms under development,” concluded Dr Birol.