Ever since the first wind farm was elevated into the sea in Denmark in the early 90s, Offshore Wind has become a competitive industry. Scotland has 25% of the whole European offshore wind resource and these projects have led to over £164 million of investment in the Scottish economy. The increasing number of offshore farms around the world has resulted in a vibrant supply chain.
In recent years though, the offshore wind sector has gone through a period of “quite significant uncertainty”, Renewable UK’s Programme Ambassador Charles Hendry told an audience at Global Offshore Wind, Glasgow in June 2014. Why? This can be put down to a slump in new capacity installed during 2013. As with anything that’s evolving, it isn’t all going to be straightforward. Country Director for UK Wind at AREVA Julian Brown compares the process to something all adults can relate to: “We’re past the spotty, hormonal stage. Some of the pains of last year are what you would expect in a maturing cycle,” he suggests.
What we can be grateful for is that there are projects planned out in the next four to five years – something which “the other sectors of Renewables can’t say.” The scale of these projects coming forward are “so enormous”, according to Hendry, who admits to being surprised by the way costs have come down.
But Brown takes more of a cynical approach - he thinks that the industry needs to cut costs dramatically and says that if there is no 30% reduction by 2020 then there is no future beyond 2020.
So what’s next for offshore wind?
Floating turbines appear to be the next big thing and many technical teams now have a new game plan - to develop their own floating turbine product.
Michael Hannibal, CEO Offshore of Siemens thinks innovation and technology are crucially important: “Although we do not have a commitment that there will be a long-term offshore wind market…innovation and technology make me believe we have the chance to bring offshore wind to the fore.” Hannibal also thinks that players in the offshore sector need to look to the very mature German offshore market if they want to see real innovation continue.
There is of course a market in turbines itself as it’s not just about the turbine but about an enormous number of parts, says Renewable UK’s Hendry. Turbines exist that are designed specifically for offshore functioning, says Brown of AREVA.
Masato Yamada who is Chief Strategy Officer for MHI Vestas has high hopes for Japan - this being the company’s key target market. The company, a joint venture between the Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Vestas Wind Systems offers two types of turbine. Having formed in April of this year, Yamada likens the company to “a baby". He says their key vision is to enter the Japanese market - which is yet to come to life.
In Japan, the Fukishima nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011 resulted in a crash in confidence in nuclear power. After the incident public protests took place which called for nuclear power to be abandoned. Polls suggest that 80% of voters in Japan now oppose nuclear power altogether. Although renewable energy still only makes up less than 1% of Japan’s energy capacity, this change in mentality has been momentous.
Prior to the Fukushima-disaster, Naoto Kan was Prime Minister and supported nuclear power. He has admitted that a week after the disaster his mind about nuclear power was changed, adding that the accident “pushed Japan to the brink of national collapse.” Subsequently, it is now reported that the door has been opened for a ‘renewables boom.’ Within 10 to 20 years all the electricity that was being produced by the nuclear plants will be supplied by renewables.
Paul Reynolds, Senior Consultant for DNV GL describes Japan as “the new energy frontier” which “intends to become the largest country to commercialize offshore wind power technology by around 2018.” There appears to be considerable interest in floating turbine technology due to the country’s deep sea waters and 35,000 kilometres of coastline. There are fewer opportunities for fixed wind sites where foundations are directly installed to the seabed.
Currently the Floating Offshore Wind Farm Experimental Project is situated 20 kilometres off the coast of Fukushima. Supported by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the project is worth 250 million dollars. It involves the installation of several floating offshore turbines with the aim of cutting the cost of floating turbine technology. The Japanese Government supports the technology and hope “to make floating wind technology viable by 2018.”
 “Energy in Scotland: Get the Facts”; The Scottish Government, 25 June, 2014: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Business-Industry/Energy/Facts
 “Nuclear Power in Japan”; World Nuclear Association, 20 June, 2014. Web. 23 June, 2014: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-G-N/Japan/
 “Japan Considers Energy Future after Fukushima”; PBS Newshour, 13 March, 2014. Web. 25 June, 2014: (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/japan-considers-energy-future-after-fukushima/)
 Fackler, Martin. “Japan’s Former Leader Condemns Nuclear Power”; The New York Times, 28 May, 2012. Web. 24 June, 2014: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/asia/japans-naoto-kan-condemns-nuclear-power.html?_r=0
 “Japan’s Energy Problem”; Business Green, 23 June, 2014: http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/opinion/2344234/japans-energy-problem
 “Fukushima Experimental Offshore Floating Wind Farm Project Second Phase Update”; Market Watch, 11 June, 2014. Web. 25 June, 2014: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/fukushima-experimental-offshore-floating-wind-farm-project-second-phase-update-2014-06-11
 Watanabe, Chisaki. “Fukushima Floating Offshore Wind Project Seeks to Have Cost”; Bloomberg, 28 November, 2013. Web. 25 June, 2014: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-28/fukushima-floating-offshore-wind-project-seeks-to-halve-cost.html