Flotation Energy has been packing out boats from Aberdeen for the largest ever delegation to a floating offshore wind farm.
Around 150 people were taken to the Kincardine project over the course of a week last month, about 10 miles offshore.
Why? Because they want to give regulators, environmental stakeholders, oil and gas firms and the media a sense of what’s been achieved so far, and the scale of what’s to come.
Kincardine, until recently the world’s largest floating project (thanks, Norway’s HyWind Tampen), became fully operational in 2021, which developers used as a means of demonstrating the readiness of the technology to support clean power ambitions in the UK and globally.
Out on the boat, tour groups heard that Kincardine’s turbines tower some 190 metres high, nearly as tall as the Noble Hans Deul oil rig which has been stationed at the Port of Aberdeen until recently.
Looking skyward to the top of the turbines, Flotation Energy general manager Barry MacLeod highlighted that the next floating wind projects – planned to decarbonise oil and gas platforms in the UK North Sea – could be pushing 300m tall as turbines increase in size.
Can Scotland’s ports really accommodate a build like that?
‘National disgrace’? Challenge laid down to designers for floating wind at UK ports
Industry and government have pointed to Kincardine as a national success story for floating wind in Scotland, a first-mover advantage.
While that is correct, and to be applauded, the fact remains there has been very limited UK port content in its development.
Most of the build-out took place in Spain and the Netherlands, and when a turbine needed repairs last year it didn’t go to Aberdeen – just 10 miles away – but was towed all the way back to Rotterdam.
All of this was noted in UK Offshore Wind Champion Tim Pick’s recent report to government, and during a fireside chat with Energy Voice at the All-Energy conference in Glasgow last month, he described the situation as a “national disgrace”.
The fact that repairs couldn’t even be done in Aberdeen is perhaps the strongest example of just how far Scotland’s port infrastructure has to go to get after floating wind in earnest – and it has to happen soon.
Allan MacAskill, Flotation’s co-chief technology officer who was among the team that helped develop the Kincardine project, and is now working up Green Volt and Cenos; Flotation’s next huge North Sea projects.
“I would object to the use of the term ‘national disgrace’, but the fact is these were the designs… what we learned as we started to get into the project was that the designs of the substructures that we had were really not suitable for ports on the British east coast.”
The “challenge” that Flotation has laid down to designers and fabricators for its upcoming projects is for them to be developed in much shallower waters available in the UK.
“And we will do that,” commits MacAskill. “When we come back there will need to be port infrastructure constructed and developed, but we’ll also have designs which are suitable for the potential environment that we can create on the east coast of the UK.
“We do not have ports that will run at the same rate as Rotterdam. It’s just different. So we have to take that as a technical challenge to put to the industry and the designers and develop systems that are suitable for situation, and that those ports are as close as is practicable to where the sites of the future are going to be.
“The idea of towing a machine all the way to and from Rotterdam – or even from Rotterdam, because we assembled it in Rotterdam – it’s not sensible for the future. It takes too long. It costs too much and so we have to deal with that.”
Cenos and Green Volt
Next up is Green Volt and Cenos, developments for which Flotation won seabed space in Crown Estate Scotland’s INTOG (Innovation and Targeted Oil and Gas) leasing round.
They’re partnered on both with Vargronn of Norway, a joint venture between private equity firm HitecVision and Italian oil firm Eni.
Also now in the mix is Japanese utilities firm TEPCO, which recently took over Flotation. On the boat to Kincardine is new co-CTO Shinichiro Ichiyama who recently moved from Japan to Edinburgh following the takeover.
First up is Green Volt: a 500 megawatt project currently in the consenting application stage, which Flotation hopes to have operational in 2027 to power the CNOOC Buzzard oilfield, among other developments.
MacAskill describes it as the “first serious commercial wind farm that’s based on a floating structure, everything else is test and demonstration”.
China’s CNOOC, which operates Buzzard, has made no secret of its recent attempts to exit the UK North Sea. So are they still committed to the project?
“We’re in discussions with them, I think is really all we can say at this stage,” says MacAskill.
“The reality is that it doesn’t really matter who operates Buzzard, they still have the same issue.
“It’s the largest producing oilfield, I believe, in the UK North Sea, it has a long future ahead of it, and therefore what we need is to clean that up and to reduce the emissions from producing oil on that platform.
“And we’re not just aiming Green Volt at Buzzard, but there are other platforms and developments that are interested in participating and gaining access to the electricity that we generate.”
After Green Volt is Cenos – targeted to delivering power in 2028 – a giant 1.4 gigawatt project which will deliver power to multiple platforms in the central North Sea.
Have they disclosed which fields? Not yet, but they’re targeting eight oil and gas platforms for decarbonisation.
“We’ve got a number of fields that are in that area that we’re in discussion with and we’ve already completed all of the surveys that you need for birds and various things and we’re into the final surveys that you need in order to be able to submit a consent application – hopefully towards the end of this year or early next.”