A ground-breaking system to store clean power from the world’s first commercial-scale floating wind farm starts testing next month, a significant development in efforts to harvest renewable energy from the deepest oceans, officials said on Wednesday.
The storage unit, named Batwind, will store energy produced by five wind turbines floating in the North Sea some 25 kilometres off the Scottish eastern coast port city of Peterhead.
Hywind Scotland – a joint venture by Norwegian energy company Equinor and the UAE’s Masdar – started operating last year to try to harness stronger winds in harsher conditions offshore.
The onshore storage site will help officials to control the flow of electricity into national grids, regulating the fickle nature of renewable energy production to secure the best prices at peak periods of power use, according to officials.
“This is a big deal for Masdar,” said Bader Al Lamki, its executive director for clean energy during a tour of the facility in Peterhead on Wednesday. “After 12 years of work, we have a global portfolio of renewable energy projects around the world.”
Offshore wind farms are seen as key to the future of wind-power generation because they are twice as efficient as those on land, and encounter less public opposition to turbines considered eyesores in hillside locations, according to analysts.
Most offshore turbines around the UK coastline are in shallow waters and fixed to the sea floor. As space near the shore runs out, the Scottish government said more sites would be sought in deeper water.
Floating wind farms may also be more environmentally friendly than fixed offshore turbines because they may cause less disruption to sea birds, fish-spawning grounds and the inshore fishing fleet, according to the government’s assessment.
Sebastian Bringsvaerd, head of Hywind development at Equinor, told The National that the early months of operation had proved successful for the floating wind farm with higher than expected energy yields. It benefits from the strong winds off the Scottish coasts – while the turbines survived a hurricane in the North Sea without damage.
The success of the Hywind Scotland project is being keenly watched by countries surrounded by deeper waters, such as the west coast of the United States, Chile, Portugal and Japan.
Japan is rewriting its energy policies to focus on offshore wind energy after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. In the Middle East, Oman and Saudi Arabia have the most potential for offshore wind farms, said officials.
While the price for producing energy from wind turbines has fallen dramatically, the intermittent nature of weather-linked power production has made it difficult for producers to maximise profit.
The storage and transmission of the power generated is vital to the long-term economic success of such projects, said officials working on the project.
“If we can develop the right skills in Scotland, then they can be exported around the world,” said Fabrice Leveque, senior policy manager at industry body Scottish Renewables. “Energy storage, of which Batwind is one example, allows renewable generators to export their power when it’s needed, rather than just when it is being generated.”
The Batwind system uses artificial intelligence to store and feed power into the UK power network based on an algorithm that analyses wind speed and the price of electricity that rises at peak levels of demand.
“Energy storage is vital to unlocking the full potential of renewables by mitigating the variable nature of wind and solar power,” Mr Al Lamki said.
“Batwind will help us to understand how we can deploy this new technology in future projects, both in solar power and wind-power plants.”
Britain is currently the largest supplier of wind power in the world, ahead of Germany and Taiwan, according to trade association Renewable UK.
Interview with Bader Al Lamki, Masdar’s Executive Director for Clean Energy