Renewable energy production from conventional bottom fixed offshore wind turbines possesses limited application on a worldwide scale as it needs shallow water and can be installed only up to 50 m depth of water. Furthermore, the cost of installation and O&M increases with the depth of the water. Therefore, due to high installation and operational costs the offshore wind energy is 2-3 times more expensive than any other conventional energy sources.Therefore, still now, this industry is heavily subsidised by public funds and the big question is how long the public support will be available. Therefore, innovative technology is welcomed for the sustainability of offshore wind energy ventures.
After the Fukushima nuclear power disaster in 2011, Japan has shown more interest in renewable energy. In 2015, Japan has installed two of the world’s largest (7MW capacity) floating wind turbines off the coast of Fukushima as a pilot project. The vision of this new venture is not only to reduce the installation and operation costs significantly but also to generate electricity from the coastal zone where bottom fixed offshore wind parks cannot be constructed. The Japanese engineers claim that the structure of their offshore floating wind turbine is very robust and able to withstand up to 20 meter waves and even tsunamis. The Fukushima offshore floating wind project operates by a university-industry–government consortium where the University of Tokyo is providing the technological advisory support and the government is covering the financial expenses. The giant entrepreneurial firms like Mitsubishi Corporation and Hitachi Ltd are directly involved in this demonstration project.
I think this consortium is an excellent example of integration (and knowledge dissemination) of university, public and private sectors in an innovative experiment on green energy production from offshore wind. For the sustainability of this innovative project, and to know if total costs are indeed lower, research on the diverse challenges (and how they might be overcome) due to institutional, environmental, economic and technological aspects of such a floating wind turbine system, and comparison of those challenges and opportunities with existing bottom mounted technology, is essential. Furthermore, I believe that the success of this pilot project will definitely open a new window to drive the large scale commercial projects (especially in the deeper water coast) and also contribute to reducing the levelized cost of energy (LOCE) of offshore wind parks as it might be easier to install and maintain floating turbines than invest more in the conventional bottom fixed one.
Photo credit: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/11/11/national/floating-wind-farm-debuts-off-fukushima/#.VqDIZvkrKUl