A Steadier Platform for Floating Wind Power

The Norwegian North Sea site for StatoilHydro\'s first floating wind turbineThose of you who mistook CN’s April 2 post Wind Power That Floats for a belated April Fool’s joke will want to consider last month’s project launch by Norway’s StatoilHydro. The North Sea oil and gas giant has teamed up with engineering conglomerate Siemens AG to anchor a full-scale commercial wind turbine in over 200 meters of water off Norway’s southwest tip.

StatoilHydro and Siemens plan to take a different tack from the startups profiled in the April 2 piece. As I show today in Wind Power Moves into Deep Waters at TechnologyReview.com, these big players are selecting components conservatively to prove that the concept of floating wind turbines is workable rather than trying to engineer the optimal floating system from the start. 

Consider the turbine itself. Tech startup Sway is designing a downwind rotor, and rival Blue H Group is building a two-bladed rotor with hinged blades. Both designs could reduce the forces on the machine and thus reduce the weight of the entire system–including the super-pricey counterweights required to anchor giant buoys to the seabed. But both designs were also left behind as the commercial wind power industry went mainstream in the mid to late 1990s and coalesced around the less elegant but more durable upwind three-bladed rotors now universally used on utility scale turbines.

StatoilHydro and Siemens will use a well-tested Siemens three-blade upwind machine, thus simplifying both their design process and their demonstration of the floating wind concept. As StatoilHydro’s vp for wind power notes in my story, if the demo fails in any way they’ll know that it’s not the turbine itself that’s to blame.

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