Wind power has come a long way over the past decade or so. Technology is constantly changing and offering new and exciting opportunities in the field of alternative energy. The U.S. has dealt with a variety of issues regarding offshore wind farms in recent years, but an interesting development is the invention of the floating wind turbine. Here’s what you need to know about floating wind turbines, and how they are likely to reenergize the industry.
Success at Coos Bay
A floating wind turbine demonstration has been active off the coast of Oregon for some time now. Built by Seattle-based company Principle Power, the first west coast offshore wind farm (known as WindFloat Pacific) began development in 2014. The project is supposed to bring a number of jobs to the area and stimulate the local economy while solving the problem of difficult infrastructure issues related to offshore wind power. The Principle Power WindFloat system is described as a simple triangular support structure that floats over a variety of ocean depths without extensive construction or other operations required prior to assembly, deployment, and commissioning. The prototype, deployed in Portugal in 2011, was assembled on land and towed from a dry dock to its assembly station.
The Benefits of Floating Turbines
Standard design wind turbines require relatively shallow offshore depths. As such, the east coast has seen a number of offshore wind farms planned and even developed over the past five years. The west coast of the U.S., however, has a generally steep coastline making the demand for floating turbines that much more viable and in demand. Rather than having turbines anchored to the ocean floor with a conventional platform, these new turbines can be floated out into deeper waters, tethered together and anchored in place. They have the capability to access more powerful and more reliable winds than near the shoreline.
Industry and Design Challenges
The design of the floating turbines used in the Coos Bay project is relatively simple; the platform supports three turbines, and consists of a shallow draft (for easy shipment from shallow waters into deep), a “closed loop” hull trim design, and so-called water entrapment plates at the base of each of the three columns meant to stabilize the platform in rough waters and high winds. These special considerations were taken to address the design challenges of floating large wind turbines in deep water.
The offshore wind farm industry in the U.S. has seen its challenges over the years. The long-fought battles over the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts are an example of the types of obstacles similar projects may face in the future, though the final ruling in favor of wind power for Cape Wind sets a positive precedence going forward as well. Wind power is an exciting and fast-moving industry with plenty of opportunities for further innovation, such as floating turbines.
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