As countries strive to meet their climate change targets, the need for decarbonising the power sector has dramatically increased the demand for offshore wind energy. The offshore wind energy sector looks to flourish in 2023, with the UK, China, and Germany leading the way in installed capacity. Global offshore wind capacity is anticipated to grow from around 60 Gigawatt (GW) at the end of 2022 to 410 GW by 2035. Even though this trend may appear encouraging, we must be mindful of potential issues emerging in the process. This article will explore the pros and cons of offshore wind energy to answer the question: is it truly worth the investment?
What Is Offshore Wind Energy?
Offshore wind energy is a form of renewable energy generated by turbines located in the ocean or on the continental shelf. Unlike traditional (onshore) wind farms, which are often situated on coastal land and operate on the same principles, offshore wind farms are built out at sea where wind speeds tend to be stronger and more consistent.
Offshore wind energy is relatively new, with the first offshore wind farm commissioned in Denmark in 1991. A small but essential project at five megawatts and featuring 11 turbines with diameters of 35 metres each, the wind farm provided minimal power to a few thousand households. Despite its size and cost, this first installation marked an essential step forward on the offshore wind learning curve.
Currently, the EU is a global leader in the manufacturing of key wind turbine components and the foundations and cables industry: almost half of the active companies in the wind sector (onshore and offshore) are headquartered in the EU. Several European developers are working on floating offshore wind turbines to explore offshore sites further out to sea with stronger winds. Multiple pilot projects are already up and running, with deployment expected to accelerate towards the end of this decade.
The Pros Of Offshore Wind Energy
Offshore wind energy offers several benefits compared to traditional land-based wind power.
Firstly, the wind speeds tend to be more consistent out at sea, meaning that offshore wind farms can operate more efficiently and generate more energy than land-based turbines. It is a renewable resource, does not produce emissions, and allows for larger capacity projects, as offshore wind farms can use the larger surface area.
Additionally, offshore wind farms can avoid some of the land-based systems’ aesthetic and noise-related concerns.
However, the offshore wind industry is not without its challenges. The high installation and maintenance cost, the supply chain’s complexity, and the environmental impact of offshore wind farms are all significant concerns.
The Cons Of Offshore Wind Energy
The costs of installing and maintaining offshore wind turbines are significantly higher than land-based installations. This is due to the logistical challenges of setting up offshore structures, such as transporting personnel and large turbine components over long distances. Additionally, offshore turbines must be specially designed to withstand the harsher conditions of the open ocean, all leading to a higher price per kilowatt.
The environmental impact of offshore wind farms also presents challenges. Scientists are in the process of assessing potential damage to marine ecosystems and bird migration patterns. Additionally, the potential impact on nearby shipping lanes is essential when planning offshore wind farms.
Is Offshore Wind Energy Worth The Investment?
As the leading players in the offshore wind market continue to develop ever-larger turbines, they struggle to make suitable returns on investments. Larger turbines drive bigger foundations, power cables, and installation vessels, all requiring supply chain investments. Similarly, increased focus on developing commercial-scale floating wind farms, coming on stream mainly after 2030, will drive different manufacturing supply chain opportunities and challenges to bottom-fixed projects.
In turn, governments will want a return on their investment in offshore wind regarding local employment. Therefore, regional restrictions and skills shortages will also likely create barriers for developers.
Despite significant offshore wind energy sector growth in the past decade, increased inflation and supply chain disruptions have caused project delays and potential cancellations. Several developers have also issued project warnings and are exploring ways to balance growing costs with power offtake commitments.
Ultimately, whether offshore wind energy is worth the investment depends on several factors, such as access to sea space, regional and international cooperation, industrial and employment dimensions, the technological transfer of research projects, the associated costs, and the available alternatives. In some instances, the benefits of offshore wind energy may outweigh the associated costs, making it a viable investment, whereas in other cases, the costs may be too high. In any case, offshore wind energy has the potential to be a valuable source of renewable energy in regions where other options are limited and where governmental policies align. The cost of installation and maintenance is high, but in the long run, offshore wind power could prove to be an invaluable asset in the drive to reduce carbon emissions.
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