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What next for the offshore wind industry?

This autumn, the world’s largest offshore wind farm began producing clean energy — and our ambition is for it not to be the largest for long. However, rising costs mean that challenges are looming on the horizon.

A view of the Hywind Tampen wind farm from a helicopter is shown, with the back of a person wearing a helmet faintly visible in the foreground.
Hywind Tampen has shown what is possible in floating offshore wind

Off the coast of North Sea, near Bergen, eleven wind turbines are now generating renewable power. The Hywind Tampen wind farm supplies the Snorre and Gullfaks oil and gas fields with clean energy, significantly reducing emissions. What’s more, the park is a pioneering project demonstrating what can be achieved with floating offshore wind.

I feel very privileged and proud to be involved in the startup phase of Norway's first and the world's largest floating wind farm. We’re developing an industry with the potential to globally change the energy sector and make an important contribution towards meeting climate goals. I truly believe our work is making a difference.

Olea Synnøve HofshagenSenior engineer in offshore wind at Equinor
Portrettfoto av ingeniør Olea Synnøve Hofshagen, ikledd verneutstyr på Hywind Tampen

From the Sandsli offices in Bergen, Hofshagen and the rest of the operations team coordinate maintenance plans, logistics, and other tasks related to field operations. They also maintain close contact with the control room, reviewing daily activities and weather conditions to provide power forecasts for the platforms.

28-year-old Hofshagen originally studied geology and previously worked in the petroleum sector – like many of her renewable-energy colleagues.

“Equinor’s transition into a broad energy company means we play a significant role in the energy transition. It also leads to numerous exciting development opportunities within the company,” she adds.

“There’s a wealth of knowledge from the Norwegian continental shelf that can be transferred to offshore wind. The wind resources in the North Sea are exceptional, something many people aren't aware of.”

Significant milestones

Off the Yorkshire coast lies what will become the world’s largest bottom-fixed offshore wind farm: Dogger Bank. In October, the first wind turbine began generating renewable power for the British. By 2026, a total of 277 wind turbines will be installed, with a combined capacity of 3.6 GW, equating to the annual power usage of around six million British homes.

Hywind Tampen and Dogger Bank are significant milestones that Equinor is leveraging in the further development of offshore wind.

The first wind turbine in the Dogger Bank offshore wind farm has now started production.

Even though Dogger Bank is in England, it’s in our ‘neighbourhood’ in the North Sea – showing that this is also feasible at home. The goal is for offshore wind in Norway, as in the UK, to produce clean energy and create jobs. With Hywind Tampen, we’ve shown it’s possible to build a new Norwegian industry on the shoulders of the oil and gas sector.

Siri Espedal KindemHead of Equinor's renewables operations in Norway
Portrettfoto av ingeniør Olea Synnøve Hofshagen, ikledd verneutstyr på Hywind Tampen

Large-scale production should bring costs down 

Norway has big plans for offshore wind: by 2040, the authorities aim to grant offshore wind area licences capable of producing 30,000 MW – almost as much as today’s total Norwegian hydropower production.

Earlier this year, a competition was announced for two areas: Utsira North for floating offshore wind and Southern North Sea II for bottom-fixed wind. Seven consortia of companies have now expressed interest in developing offshore wind in the southern North Sea, while the application deadline for Utsira Nord has been postponed. More areas are planned to be put up for tender in 2025.

Hywind Tampen
Hywind Tampen. Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

Norway’s offshore wind initiative also offers vast opportunities for the supplier industry, which is now transitioning to participate in this new industrial chapter.

“With Hywind Tampen, Equinor and its suppliers have tested which solutions work for floating offshore wind. Utsira Nord will provide the opportunity to scale and industrialise these solutions to reduce costs,” says Kindem.

Now, there will be many more wind turbines – and the Wergeland base in Sløvåg, Gulen municipality, is gearing up to be the ‘offshore wind factory’ that will make it happen. This was also where the Hywind Tampen turbines were assembled.

Oversiktsbilde av Skipavika i Gulen, hvor man skimter Hywind Tampens vindturbiner i bakgrunnen
From the assembly of the Hywind Tampen turbines in Gulen in Ytre Sogn.

Wergeland plans to mass-produce concrete foundations and then attach them to wind turbines. Depending on the design chosen for the assembly line, between 20 and 50 units will be produced here each year, creating 200 to 800 new jobs just in the production line.

“We know that one industrial job leads to around three years of work in related services – so it's clear that this is a great opportunity for us and the local community. We are ready and looking forward to it,” says Irene Wergeland, communications manager of the Wergeland Group.

She believes this project exemplifies the energy transition in practice.

“We have systematically worked towards sustainability for a long time, and it’s incredibly motivating to see that we can be part of the green shift. To meet climate goals, we must include sustainability in everything we do. This, coupled with the expertise we’ve developed in this industrial area and our strategic location, can help make the wind turbine venture economically sustainable,” says Wergeland.

The challenges are not deterring ambitions

In other words, there are high expectations for Norway’s offshore wind initiative. But the challenges are also significant.

Equinor’s Trollvind project had to be indefinitely postponed due to increased costs and delays in new technology. And the large offshore wind projects in New York have also become costlier and more challenging than initially expected, leading to a reset on Empire Wind 2.

Pål Eitrheim, Equinor’s executive vice president for renewable energy, nonetheless emphasises that the company's long-term belief in offshore wind remains unchanged.

January 3, 2024: Empire Wind 2 offshore wind project announces reset

Offshore wind is experiencing a challenging period. In this respect, having a background in oil and gas is an advantage. We have 50 years of experience managing ups and downs. We don’t get carried away on the way up, nor do we bury our heads when there is a slow-down

Pål EitrheimExecutive Vice President for Renewables at Equinor

He believes the current industrial challenges will be resolved, and that the ‘growing pains’ will ease in time.

“Offshore wind will be a vital part of the world’s and Norway’s energy mix after 2030 – and Equinor intends to be a leader in this field,” he says.

And while much has changed in recent years, there is also much that remains consistent and provides a basis for optimism for Equinor and Norway:

“Norway’s potential for offshore wind has not changed – our wind resources are world-class. The power and offshore expertise gives us a competitive edge. And green power – in Norway and the rest of the world – is a prerequisite for meeting climate objectives,” Eitrheim points out.

Offshore wind

Most wind turbines in the world today are bottom-fixed turbines standing in water depths of around 60 meters.
The next generation of offshore wind turbines is designed to float far out to sea. There the wind is stronger, but the depth of water makes it uneconomical to use bottom-fixed turbines.
The majority of the Norwegian continental shelf is suited for floating offshore wind. Although the potential in offshore wind is substantial, both floating and bottom-fixed offshore wind currently rely on subsidy schemes to be competitive in Norway.
Floating offshore wind has the most cost-intensive technology.

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