DESIGN: Anas Al Bounni PHOTO CREDIT: Shutterstock

Offshore wind farms could potentially produce more energy than the world currently consumes, but procedures, permits and regulatory administration present challenges. A 2019 report by the International Energy Agency estimates that the offshore wind potential is equivalent to approximately 18 times the global energy expenditure.

And this industry is growing: Many countries around the world are developing offshore wind farms and investing in the sector. By 2030, an estimated 35 countries will have offshore wind turbines — nearly double the number of countries participating today.

Global Market Insights reports the “offshore wind energy market passed U.S.$47.5 billion in 2022,” and estimates a compound annual growth rate in excess of 16.2 percent between 2023-2032.

Rebecca Williams, global head of offshore wind at the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), believes offshore wind will be at the heart of the world’s energy system by 2050.

And for good reason. First, they are emissions-free. No wildlife is displaced as wind farms don’t need large land masses, and there are no neighbors to bother with noise pollution. Plus, being offshore, they aren’t subject to the dying winds that plague land turbines. Higher wind force and consistent movement means more electricity.

Environmental perks aren’t the only benefits offshore wind farms provide. Experts see potential for economic growth in this sector, possibly creating millions of jobs globally.

CAPTION: Dec, 2015, 196 countries adopt the Paris Agreement IMAGE: Arnaud Bouissou

However, in order to achieve the 1.5-degree global temperature increase limit set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement, offshore wind turbine production would have to quadruple, according to the energy council.

“Offshore wind is at the very center of global ambitions to deliver a fossil-fuel free future that limits global heating to 1.5C,” the council’s Williams says. “However, to achieve this, “global capacity should exceed 365 GW by 2030.”

The International Renewable Energy Agency agrees, requiring a further growth to an estimated 2 terawatts by 2050 to meet the 1.5C goal. However, current pace of development suggests global production will achieve only 66 percent of this target by 2030.

Even countries rich in other resources are looking into offshore wind’s potential. In the UAE, the government’s renewable-energy company Masdar and the National Petroleum Construction Co. in 2022 entered into an agreement to investigate the technology.

By leveraging each other’s world-class expertise in our respective fields, our combined efforts could play a vital role in achieving the UAE’s clean energy objectives and support our nation’s net-zero commitment,says Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, Masdar CEO in

Masdar also has a stake in the Hywind Scotland offshore wind farm and in 2022 signed an agreement with Cosmo Energy Holdings Co. to explore offshore wind projects in Japan. Hywind is the world’s first floating wind farm.

Offshore wind energy faces obstacles, however.

IMAGE: Shutterstock

The farms are difficult to build in deep waters. They are expensive, hard to maintain and risk damage from high waves and winds during storms.

Hitting the 2 terawatt target would translate to roughly U.S.$500 billion in capital expenditure this decade, and U.S.$3 trillion by 2050, according to Williams.

Currently, two types of offshore turbines are in use — those that are fixed to the ocean floor and those, like Hywind, that float.

The deepest fixed-bottom turbine currently reaches a depth of 57.4 meters. This means they need to be closer to shore in shallower waters.

Floating turbines, however, can be built in much deeper water. Turbines in deeper water and farther offshore generate significantly more power, utilizing high, consistent winds and have no barriers nearby to block them.

Because so much more power can be generated from these deep-water titans (some stand over 490 feet tall), a lot of time is spent minimizing the challenges they face. One such challenge is hurricanes.

In search of a possible way to mitigate this risk, a team of researchers at the University of Colorado recently collaborated on a new blade design inspired by something that handles strong storms well — the palm tree.

The design uses lighter materials, which could bring down the cost and leave the structure less vulnerable to damage in high winds. It could also make it possible to have one big turbine as opposed to many smaller ones. This would reduce installation and material costs.

The team also hopes that its design will outlast current turbines, which have a lifespan of approximately 20 years.

While protecting turbines is a priority for some, other countries battle to get projects off the ground due to governmental regulations.

A country like Vietnam, for example, with a lengthy coastline of over 3,000 kilometers and winds that can reach up to 10 meters per second, has the potential to be the leader in offshore wind in Southeast Asia. But a 2022 study by the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates the process to get from the beginning phase of a project to actual operation is approximately seven years — the first five years of which is simply project development.

“Many markets need to build a sector from the very beginning,” Williams tells KUST Review.

One of the major hindrances to acquiring approvals is uncertainty about the effects on marine life. Development in offshore wind energy may offer a limitless supply of energy but protecting the oceans’ ecosystems is also important

Currently, information about the impacts of offshore wind farms on marine life is sparse or conflicting. A 2022 study by a team at Basque Research and Technology Alliance suggests that more data is needed. The team proposes the full impact will be known only when more studies are done across greater-sized areas — currently most publications are based on studies on small areas, quite close to the shore, and farms with few turbines. It also recommends monitoring specific and protected ecosystems.

IMAGE: Shutterstock

One organization that is working to ensure the protection of marine life from offshore wind development is U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It works to provide wind developers with research on marine-life impact that can assist with decisions on where to build, the construction process, and functionality once the farm is up and running.

Overall, Williams is positive for the future of offshore wind farms, both floating and fixed: “There are challenges in delivering on this huge potential, but the sector is also a beacon of hope for international collaboration that delivers climate action. Initiatives like the Global Offshore Wind Alliance, which was founded by GWEC, (the International Renewable Energy Agency) and the government of Denmark, are bringing together countries all over the world, with big and small offshore markets, to share expertise and knowledge that will help make potential clean energy into actual clean energy,” she tells KUST Review

High, consistent winds in deep water help turbines generate more power than those on land or close to the shoreline.

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