(c) Arthur Morris/Birds as Art
The Supreme Court decision to uphold permission for the massive Neart Na Gaoithe (NNG), Inch Cape and Seagreen wind farms in the Outer Firths of Tay and Forth to go ahead will have disappointed the RSPB. I’m sympathetic to their concerns and I wonder if a move to greater use of floating wind farms will be the answer.
RSPB Scotland are concerned that the wind turbine blades could harm seabird colonies including gannets and puffins. The RSPB says:
‘Our peer reviewed scientific research suggests that there may be limited additional capacity for fixed offshore wind turbines in Scotland, which tend to be located in the shallow waters relatively near to shore and our protected seabird colonies. However, it has identified that there may be huge potential in Scotland for deeper water technologies such as floating wind. In this nascent sector, Scotland now has an opportunity to be a world leader and transition skills and jobs from North Sea oil and gas if we pursue these technologies in a sustainable way.’
There are further, compelling, economic and efficiency-related benefits, summarised by Stanford University back in 2012, to floating wind farms located further out to sea and making this case even stronger:
- The first and most immediately compelling advantage of floating offshore wind is access to incredible wind resource over deep waters. Currently we can only access a small fraction of the offshore wind resource worldwide due to depth constraints.
- Offshore wind is recognized for its proximity to load centers but often still encounters significant NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) resistance. Population centers tend to cluster near the coastlines, so offshore wind minimizes the distance from generation to load centers, without competing for valuable land. Opponents argue, however, that turbines negatively impact the skyline (visual pollution) or result in disruptive noise. Floating turbines address these concerns by allowing wind farms to be pushed farther offshore and out of sight.
- Finally, there are also several manufacturing advantages to floating platforms, such as using less material in construction and reducing the need for specialty marine engineering expertise. One major cost driver for conventional offshore wind are the heavy lift vessels required to erect the turbine. Very expensive special purpose ships are required to transport the parts on site and perform the assembly. Floating turbine platforms, however, are designed to be assembled in port and towed into position using simple barges or tugboats. This can result in major cost savings and greatly increased flexibility in construction.
Remember, when thinking about point 1 above that Scotland has 25% of all of Europe’s coastal wind energy.