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The countdown has begun for Norway’s new era of offshore energy: floating wind

If you travel a hundred and twenty kilometres (75 miles) out into the windswept North Sea northwest of Bergen, you will find seven huge, rotating wind turbines. They’re already generating renewable electricity, in what will be the world’s largest floating offshore wind farm: Hywind Tampen. And when the windfarm is complete, there will be eleven turbines in all.

This is the first offshore wind farm in the world to be built to supply electricity to oil and gas platforms, and can cover as much as 35 per cent of the electrical power demand of the Snorre and Gullfaks oil and gas fields. This will prevent 200,000 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted annually, equivalent to the emissions from 100,000 fossil-fuelled cars.

But Hywind Tampen isn’t just about reducing emissions. The project is also important for developing the offshore floating wind industry. With 60 percent local content from Norwegian suppliers, Hywind Tampen is demonstrating how a whole new sector can be built on the shoulders of the Norwegian oil and gas industry.

“Our experience confirms that Norway has a unique opportunity to become a leader in floating offshore wind,” says Siri Kindem, head of renewables in Equinor Norway.

“We have the knowledge and experience from oil and gas, we have seas with excellent wind conditions – and we have suppliers, quays and bases that give us an outstanding starting point,” she says.

Siri Kindem
Siri Kindem

Rapid development and high ambitions

Although Hywind Tampen is currently the largest of its kind in the world, with a capacity of 88 MW, forthcoming floating offshore wind farms will be far larger. Things are happening fast now.

It has been said that 2023 is for offshore wind what 1970 was for oil. Minister of Petroleum and Energy Terje Aasland has proclaimed that the race for offshore wind is underway – and that the state will allocate licences for acreage with a potential for 30 GW of offshore wind by 2040 — about 75 per cent of the capacity of the current Norwegian power system.

With offshore licence areas now being drawn up, the first pieces of the puzzle are falling into place for those who want to take part in the offshore wind adventure. The first round of allocations, which the authorities are planning in 2025, will contribute to further efforts.

The future of offshore wind and floating offshore wind looks bright, and a lot will happen in the coming years,” says Kindem. “Europe needs a vast amount of renewable power, and offshore wind will play an important role in this energy transition,” she says.

At the same time, she emphasises that it is crucial that the Norwegian authorities facilitate predictable development, and that developers and suppliers work together to reduce the cost of floating offshore wind. Even though the potential of floating offshore wind is great, it remains an expensive technology that depends on support schemes.

“Ultimately, the goal is for floating offshore wind to be profitable, but there is still some way to go,” she says. “To succeed, it will require sustained public support for projects, and reduction of costs through industrial development that reduces costs,” says Kindem. She adds that the focus on offshore wind will create new jobs and more green power that is needed in Norway.

Plans for offshore wind in Norway

  • The first areas for offshore wind in Norway will probably be awarded in the first half of 2023.
  • Initially, there will be two areas, Southern North Sea II (1.5 GW) for bottom-fixed offshore wind, and Utsira Nord (1.5 GW) for floating offshore wind.
  • More areas expected in due course: Equinor and its partners in the Troll and Oseberg fields are studying the possibilities of developing Trollvind – a 1 GW floating offshore wind farm offshore Bergen.

With offshore licence areas now being drawn up, the first pieces of the puzzle are falling into place for those who want to take part in the offshore wind adventure. The first round of allocations, which the authorities are planning in 2025, will contribute to further efforts.

The future of offshore wind and floating offshore wind looks bright, and a lot will happen in the coming years,” says Kindem. “Europe needs a vast amount of renewable power, and offshore wind will play an important role in this energy transition,” she says.

At the same time, she emphasises that it is crucial that the Norwegian authorities facilitate predictable development, and that developers and suppliers work together to reduce the cost of floating offshore wind. Even though the potential of floating offshore wind is great, it remains an expensive technology that depends on support schemes.

“Ultimately, the goal is for floating offshore wind to be profitable, but there is still some way to go,” she says. “To succeed, it will require sustained public support for projects, and reduction of costs through industrial development that reduces costs,” says Kindem. She adds that the focus on offshore wind will create new jobs and more green power that is needed in Norway.

Great opportunities for the supplier industry

The offshore wind investments also mean great opportunities for the supplier industry, which is now adapting to be part of the new industrial chapter.

“Our industry is full of world-leading expertise that can be transferred to offshore wind. The Norwegian supplier industry has a unique opportunity to position itself for capturing a significant share of the floating offshore wind market, both in Norway and internationally,” says Kindem.

Among the suppliers that have begun positioning themselves are the Wergeland Group. At their base in Gulen, Hywind Tampen’s wind turbines have been assembled on their 107-metre-high towers – and then towed out into the North Sea.

The rotors of Hywind Tampen’s wind turbines are lifted into place at the Wergeland base in Gulen.
The rotors of Hywind Tampen’s wind turbines are lifted into place at the Wergeland base in Gulen.
Photo: Einar Aslaksen

“Hywind Tampen has given us experience with the interactions needed to succeed with such a project. Additionally, it has served as a test of the infrastructure and capacity. It has been interesting and educational,” says communications director of the Wergeland Group, Irene Kjelsby Wergeland.

She believes that Norwegian suppliers have an excellent chance of being competitive for international contracts as well.

“Here in Norway we have some natural advantages, and we are centrally located in the North Sea basin. It’s possible to achieve large-scale production in Norway, but it will require major investments and a lot of skilled labour, because the wind power projects of the future will be very much larger,” she says.

Rapid but responsible development

Although Norway has led the floating offshore wind industry until now, several countries are now vying for the mantle. A number of floating offshore wind projects are now being planned worldwide, including in Asia, the US and the UK.

In 2022, the UK awarded a total of 15 GW of floating offshore wind acreage in the Scotwind auction – equivalent to 170 Hywind Tampen wind farms. In 2023, the state of California alone allocated 4.5 GW. In other words, the competition to attract investment and to build a supplier industry is underway.

But while development must be rapid to keep up, it would be a mistake to take irresponsible shortcuts. Offshore wind farms share the sea with marine life as well as other industries.

“Coexistence is important to Equinor, and it is important to me personally. We need efficient processes, but they should not be at the expense of necessary investigations and dialogue,” Kindem emphasises.

She came from the position as head of Equinor’s offshore wind initiative in the US, where dialogue with other users of the ocean was an important part of the work. She points out that Equinor’s experience from oil and gas will also come in handy when developing offshore wind in Norway.

“We know the North Sea well, and have good and established channels for cooperation. It also means that we already have some data that can be used to get started with the processes faster,” she says.

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