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September 26, 2023 at 6:30 a.m. EDT

New know-how permits floating wind farms to be put in in deep water, the place the wind is stronger and extra constant. (Ole Berg-Rusten/AFP/Getty Photos)Touch upon this storyComment

BERGEN, Norway — The Norwegian prime minister and the nation’s crown prince have been sweating like everybody else, zipped into their North Sea survival fits as they boarded the helicopters to take us out to see the long run.

The pair, accompanied by press, have been right here for the official opening of the world’s largest floating offshore wind energy challenge. The phrase doing the exhausting work in that sentence is “floating.”

Not like 99 % of the world’s offshore wind generators, that are mounted on to the ocean flooring in comparatively shallow depths, these next-generation machines may be deployed in very deep water, within the outer reaches of ocean house, the place they’ll harvest extra highly effective, constant wind.

Far offshore, they may additionally keep away from opposition from shoreside communities, who don’t need inexperienced power to spoil the view.

The query of the best way to make the whales, fishing fleets and cargo freighters completely happy is ongoing.

About 90 miles off the coast, in one of many windiest locations on Earth, the helicopters took a sluggish loop previous Norway’s latest wind farm, dubbed Hywind Tampen, constructed by state-owned power big Equinor.

The machines, from afar, appear like pinwheels. However up shut, they’re huge: every virtually as tall because the Eiffel Tower, above and beneath the waterline, and weighing 12,000 tons, equal to 60 Boeing 747s.

They’re held in place by a few of the heftiest chains ever crafted, connected to the ocean flooring by “suction anchors” that burrow into the sand — exhaling and inhaling air — like one thing out of a sci-fi novel.

“It’s a miracle that they float,” mentioned Ole Arild Larsen, supervisor of operations for Hywind Tampen. He was kidding. He’s spent his profession ensuring they do.

He in contrast his firm’s “spar buoy” design to a stoppered bottle of water, semi-submerged within the sea. On this case, the “bottle” is a huge hole concrete tube, sealed at each ends and weighted with gravel and water to decrease the middle of gravity and function a counterbalance to maintain the rig upright.

The generators rise, dip and sway within the swell. They’re slim, elegant and a bit of scary.

As we handed, the sweeping blades — every 265 toes lengthy — seemed to be rotating slowly, purposefully, within the mild air. However seems may be deceiving: The blades journey at 180 mph. A single flip supplies sufficient electrical energy to energy one Norwegian home for a day. The blades rotate 10 to fifteen occasions a minute; there are 1,440 minutes in a day, 525,600 minutes in a yr …

This floating wind farm gained’t provide electrical energy to shore however as a substitute will present 35 % of the annual electrical energy energy demand — about 88 megawatts — for 5 offshore oil platforms, which use giant quantities of power to separate oil, gasoline and water from the wells.

So, sure, Hywind Tampen is supporting a grimy business — one which has been profitable for Norway, serving to to develop a sovereign wealth fund price $1.4 trillion, at a price to the local weather.

The 11 new generators will scale back the nation’s general emissions this yr solely barely, by 0.4 %. Norway would wish a number of thousand generators within the North Sea to achieve its local weather pledge of web zero carbon emissions by mid-century.

However officers say floating wind farms are a necessary, revolutionary step in an power transition.

The helicopters landed on Platform C within the Gullfaks oil and gasoline area. Just a few miles away, turbine blades scythed by way of the haze. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Retailer seemed out and mentioned he appreciated the symbolism of the juxtaposition.

“The identical engineers who constructed this,” Retailer advised The Washington Publish, pointing to the oil platform upon which we stood, “constructed that.” He pointed towards the wind farm. “We’re happy with that,” he mentioned.

He predicted that the world will proceed to want oil and gasoline within the a long time to come back. “However the oil platforms will come down,” he mentioned, because the wind business advances in methods beforehand thought unimaginable — helped by the switch of know-how and know-how from the exploitation of offshore oil and gasoline.

Retailer added that when he has spoken with President Biden, “that is what we speak about … ocean wind.”

When the world’s first offshore wind farm, Vindeby in Denmark, was in-built 1991, few believed it was sensible — and even potential — to function wind generators offshore. The situations have been too harsh.

Vindeby sat only one mile offshore in 12 toes of water. As we speak, the “techno-economic restrict” for wind generators mounted to the ocean flooring is about 160 toes.

However power corporations have drawn detailed maps to point out the place the worldwide winds are greatest. They discovered that 80 % of the world’s offshore wind potential lies in waters deeper than 200 toes, in keeping with the International Wind Vitality Council, an business group.

Deeper water is the place the wind is.

The know-how to seize that wind continues to be younger. There are half a dozen completely different designs in circulation for a way greatest to drift wind generators. The prices are excessive, economics unsure, authorities assist tentative.

Earlier than the Hywind Tampen generators have been put in this summer time, there have been solely three floating wind farms on the planet that offered business energy — one in Portugal and two in Scotland. A handful of prototypes have additionally been deployed.

However power corporations see the deeper offshore atmosphere as infinitely exploitable.

Mads Nipper, chief govt of Danish wind developer Orsted, says it could be potential to develop floating wind initiatives in waters 1,000 meters deep — about 3,280 toes, or greater than half a mile down.

Kjetil Hove, Equinor’s head of exploration and manufacturing in Norway, imagines hundreds of floating generators constructed across the globe within the coming years.

In a latest multibillion-dollar public sale to lease the waters off Scotland to wind farmers, greater than half have been set to be floating initiatives. Floating parks could also be on their method to South Korea, Chile, Japan, Vietnam and the west coast of the USA.

“This is not going to be a straightforward process,” Hove cautioned.

The development and operation of floating offshore wind initiatives are complicated — and costly.

Hywind Tampen was initially estimated to price $500 million. However prices soared to $7oo million. The delays and overruns, the corporate mentioned, have been attributable to inflation, plus provide chain hurdles, particularly for metal — challenges worsened by the pandemic and fallout from the warfare in Ukraine. The Norwegian authorities closely backed the challenge.

Every of the machines was constructed dockside, in a deep-water harbor. They have been then towed out to sea and tethered to the enormous suction anchors. It takes 19 shared anchors to carry down the 11 wind generators, connected with chains heavy sufficient to safe a battleship.

With increased winds come more-challenging situations.

Seas of 20 toes — the peak of a two-story constructing — aren’t unusual right here. So are winds in extra of 40 mph. These generators can not search shelter in a secure harbor. They can not run for it.

Subtle software program helps “pilot” the machines. It could actually modify the pitch of the blades and the way they face the wind, to maintain the generators upright and balanced — and combat the forces of sea and storm, the yaw, pitch, roll, sway, surge and heave.

When flying previous the wind park — or with digicam lens from the oil platform — one can see the floating generators not solely rise and fall within the waves but in addition tilt, leaning into the wind. Tougher to see with the human eye, the machines also can drift a bit, like an anchored boat.

You can’t land a helicopter on prime of a wind turbine. There’s no room. You might dangle a employee, when you actually wanted to. However you don’t need to. As a substitute, the upkeep groups come by boat and scramble up ladders.

Larsen mentioned the machines mechanically flip themselves off in excessive winds. However they need to climate the storms alone.

The fishing and transport communities are cautious of the approaching age of offshore wind — the prospect of hundreds of machines in deep seas.

So, too, are environmentalists, who assist renewable power however need to be assured that the deep ocean generators aren’t harming whales, fish and birds.

Critics of typical wind farms typically complain about noise — the low jet-engine idling sounds they make — and the look of them.

Proponents of floating offshore wind say the generators will definitely be unheard, and principally invisible, to this point off the coast. However they agree they should accommodate transport lanes, fishing grounds and fowl migration routes.

On the Gullfaks oil rig, Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon carried out the ceremonial stunt, connecting two electrical cables to have a good time the opening of the wind farm. Employees on the rig waved Norwegian flags.

Requested about it afterward, the oilmen and ladies mentioned they welcomed the brand new know-how and the roles it can carry. It was beautiful, they mentioned, that the North Sea may transition from fossil fuels to wind inside their lifetimes.

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