2012-03-08

A Floating Wind Farm? A Floating Wind Farm

Installing wind turbines in deep, turbulent seas is a laborious and expensive project. Here’s an idea: Put them on a boat.

The tiny island nation of Malta is lagging. As a member of the European Union, Malta is supposed to get 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Currently, the country’s at 1% to 2%. Whoops.

To catch up quickly, Malta is considering a proposal by the Swedish company Hexicon to build the world’s largest floating wind farm. It would consist of 36 turbines arranged around a 460-meter-wide platform, tethered to the ocean floor by cables. The proposed site for the platform is 11 nautical miles off the island’s northeast shore. It would be far enough away to take advantage of high ocean winds (and be more or less out of sight) yet close enough that it could be connected to the country’s electricity grid without too much trouble.

Its total power capacity: 54 megawatts. The platform’s turbines are estimated to be able to provide about 9% of Malta’s power on its own, pushing the country past the 10% renewables target.

The project isn’t quite green-lit yet. Its potential effects on bird migration and marine life still have to be assessed and funding isn’t locked down (Malta is hoping to get financing from the EU’s excellent NER300 program). But if everything goes according to plan, it could be up and running by the summer of 2014.

The vast majority of offshore wind turbines are pile-driven into the seabed. Floating wind turbines like these are a very new technology: The first was deployed off the coast of Italy in 2007. To date, there are just a handful of functioning floating turbines and the largest has a capacity of only 2.3 megawatts.

But floating turbines have many potential advantages. They can be sited in much deeper waters, where they can harvest the energy from high winds while not interfering with shipping lanes or coastal views. They also may be easier to maintain or update.

Malta’s floating wind farm would be the world’s largest by an order of magnitude--but it could also be an important proof-of-concept for other countries.

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10 Comments

  • Peter Hans Frohwein

    Great idea !     More floating ideas:   Costal Cities that are at some point expected to be underwater with the possibility of rising oceans, build into all future buildings the ability to float.  Buildings and homes in flood prone areas should also be floating.   Extend current coastal cities out to sea using floating buildings, floating roads, bike paths and walkways. 

  • Ralf Lippold

    Brillant idea, and project. A pity that I don't live on the sea (yet). Very much of interest to Charles Peralo, Seasteading Institute, I suppose.

  • Theo Mason

    A great idea, helping achieve the countries energy supply, but how is it weather proof if there are storms?

  • nosybear

    Brilliant!  You reduce the overall cost of the towers - they now no longer have to swivel to face the wind, the boat can do that.  You also move the wind turbines out of sight - I remember my disappointment when I returned to Germany after many years to find the Hunsrueck dotted with wind towers.  Transmission losses would be a problem for continental power supplies but for islands or coastlines, this is a great solution.  Provided it's storm-proof, of course....

  • Zenettii

     Obvious concern here is military. What would be the first target when if you go to war and you have an easy target for them to reduce your power supply.

    It does look lovely, and I hope it goes ahead and more idea's like this happen as we have so much space that we don't take advantage of.
    to question the effects it'll have on marine life should be compared to the effects of making a nucular power plant on land, displacing thousands of wild life types, and then running a massive risk to all life forms should something go bad to the plant.

  • Peter Hans Frohwein

    If fact, I would think this would be less of a military concern because it is movable.  

  • Scoobydumster

    If every aspect of life had to be designed to fit in a military setting, then we'd be living in bunkers, wearing similar clothing and all working to produce the newest bomb ;-) I doubt, with modern rocketry, that any power installation is "safe" should a war break out. I'd rather have a wind turbine at sea getting blown up, than a nuclear power plant onshore.

  • Jette

    Scoobydumster said it...rather out at sea that on ANY land mass...militarily this makes so much sense.