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Floating wind farms could be the next big thing

Floating wind farms are one of the most underused power resources of the world as the WindFloat Atlantic proves with its humble set up in Portugal.
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The WindFloat Atlantic has three 8.4-MW wind turbines installed around 20 kilometers away from the coast of Viana do Castelo, Portugal. Though the wind turbines are of modest size, the interesting feature is that they are floating turbine platforms. Their design allows them to be placed in inaccessible waters with a depth of more than 100 meters. Offshore wind farms are prevalent nowadays. The first offshore wind farm Vindeby was constructed in the year 1991 in southeast Denmark near Lolland. It was a product of a demonstration project done to prove whether it could generate wind power offshore.

The Vindeby farm consisted of 11 wind turbines that have a total capacity of 5 MW. They were constructed in water from 2 meters (m) to 5 m deep, and The Vindeby turbine operated successfully for more than 25 years before it was dismantled in 2017. It was a pioneer in wind power generation and paved the way for offshore wind energy development projects. By the end of 2019, around 29.1 GW of offshore wind capacity was installed worldwide, as per the Global Wind Energy Council. The International Renewable Energy Agency has predicted the offshore wind capacity to reach 228 GW by 2030 and to be nearly 1,000 GW by 2050.

The wind power scope has improved substantially, and wind turbines too developed a lot since Vindeby was commissioned. On May 19, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE) launched a 14-MW offshore direct-drive turbine equipped with a 222-meter rotor. SGRE claims that the output for that turbine can maximize up to 15 MW, using its Power Boost function. GE Renewable Energy also started generating power from a 12-MW Haliade-X prototype at Rotterdam, Netherlands. MHI Vestas Offshore Wind, a joint venture between Vestas Wind Systems A/S and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, claimed that the V164-10.0 MW unit built by them was the world's first commercial double-digit offshore wind turbine.

Floating Wind Farms Turbines

The WindFloat Atlantic project consists of three 8.4-MW MHI Vestas wind turbines that give a total capacity of about 25 MW output.

Offshore wind turbines have several advantages over their land-based counterparts. Offshore wind turbines are more abundant and more robust. Offshore wind turbines don't block land, which can otherwise be used for farming or other purposes. Marine ecosystems can also benefit from the structures. The turbines protect sea life by restricting access to waters surrounding them and increasing artificial habitat for living organisms in the water. The fixed-foundation offshore wind turbines are not usually installed in waters that are deeper than 50m. However, this is no more a hindrance to future development. New floating wind turbine designs have changed the outlook and scope of wind turbines and wind power generation.

WindFloat Atlantic Commissioned

Recently on July 27, Windplus, Engie, Repsol, and Principle Power Inc. announced that WindFloat Atlantic became fully functional and was supplying clean energy to Portugal's electrical grid. The WindFloat Atlantic project consists of three 8.4-MW MHI Vestas wind turbines that give a total capacity of about 25 MW output. The turbines are the world's largest-ever engines installed on a floating platform.

EDP Renewables stated that the WindFloat Atlantic project was built on the WindFloat1 prototype's success, which successfully operated between 2011 and 2016. The 2-MW prototype started to successfully generate energy uninterruptedly for five years, surviving unscathed in harsh weather conditions.

One of the three WindFloat Atlantic platforms was constructed at the Avilés and Ferrol shipyards in Spain, while the other two were built at Setúbal shipyards in Portugal. The platforms stand 30 m tall and have a distance of 50 m between columns. Once the turbines were assembled, the platforms were towed to their permanent mooring sites with standard tug boats' help.

The WindFloat's mooring technology allows the wind turbine platforms to be installed in more than 100 m deep water. The design facilitates stability in adverse weather and sea conditions. The revolutionary design also allows greater utilization of vast offshore wind resources. According to EDP Renewables, the project has excellent support from the public and private institutions, which is a big reason for leading companies to invest in the initiative. The Government of Portugal, the European Commission, and the European Investment Bank all came forward to help the project by providing financial support for this first-of-a-kind project. Other companies involved in the endeavor included the joint venture between Navantia/Windar, the A. Silva Matos Group, Vryhof, Bourbon Subsea Services, MHI Vestas, and dynamic cable supplier JDR Cables.

The construction of the wind turbines began in October 2018. One of this project's main milestones was the departure of the first floating structure from its assembly point in Ferrol during late summer 2019. The second platform successfully left port in December 2019. In May 2020, the last of the three earlier assembled wind turbine platforms left the Port of Ferrol and headed for its final destination 20 km off Portugal's coast. The WindFloat Atlantic became fully functioned from July 2020.

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