Floating wind turbines could be deployed in the sea off Pembrokeshire as part of an effort to boost the marine energy sector in Wales.
The proposal comes as part of an environmental scoping report submitted yesterday by Cornwall-based wave energy developer Wave Hub Limited (WHL).
The report looks at how to develop marine energy technologies in the Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone (PDZ), a 90 sq km area of sea located approximately 15km off the south Pembrokeshire coastline.
It suggests that opening up the PDZ to floating wind farms would increase the commercial potential of the zone and support the development of wave energy.
Madeline Cowley, the project manager for the PDZ, said: “This is an important milestone for the Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone and marine energy in Wales. The feasibility study commissioned by WHL has concluded there would be a benefit in sharing the PDZ site and grid infrastructure with a more commercially developed project.
“Floating wind is developing rapidly and there are very few existing demonstration sites for this technology in the UK. We know the PDZ would be a good location to test floating wind as it has a good wind resource and the water depth is suitable for most types of floating wind technology.
“We have received a lot of interest from developers looking for sites to deploy at. By sharing the PDZ with floating wind we will be able to broaden access to finance for the project, bring forward development of the site and enable a phased installation of technology that will support commercialisation of both the wave and floating wind sectors.”
The report has been submitted to Natural Resources Wales and the Marine Management Organisation for the PDZ.
It considers a mix of wave energy and floating wind technology with a maximum total electricity generation of 100MW and asks for a formal opinion on what issues should be covered by an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
The Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone is an offshore site leased by the Crown Estate to WHL for the deployment of large scale wave energy arrays. It is the only planned wave energy site in Welsh waters and has a proposed onshore grid connection at Pembroke Dock Power Station.
About floating wind farms
Floating wind farms were first suggested in the 1970s but research into their practicality did not get seriously underway until the 1990s.
A demonstration floating turbine was tested off the coast of Italy by a Dutch firm in 2007-8, and the first full-scale one was deployed in the North Sea off the coast of Norway in September 2009.
The advantage of floating wind turbines is that they can be deployed in deeper waters than conventional ones that stand on the sea floor. This allows them to take advantage of the stronger and more constant winds that can be found further from the shore.
Research suggests that this access to higher winds offsets the cost of the floating structure, which in any case is not significantly higher than for sea-proofed tower of fixed turbines.
The first floating wind farm in UK waters, Hywind Scotland off the coast of Peterhead, Scotland, began generating electricity last October. It is operated by Statoil, the Norwegian energy company which developed the earlier turbine tested off Norway.
In contrast to wind energy, wave power has been slow to develop with many projects failing over the years due to technical or financial difficulties, or a combination of both.
But the Welsh Government is keen to promote the sector and has provided sustantial funding to support projects, such as the WaveSub device developed by Swansea-based Marine Power Systems which was unveiled at Pembroke Dock last October.
It joined another locally developed device, the Ocean Wave Rower designed by Pembroke Dock-based Wave-tricity, which went into the water at Milford Haven in March prior to a two-year period of sea trials.
Marine Energy Wales project director David Jones said: “The development of wave technology in Wales has already achieved significant milestones, with two devices now built and undergoing initial sea trials.
“Key to achieving commercial success is the test and demonstration of this technology at scale in real sea conditions and at a grid connected site. The PDZ will provide the necessary infrastructure for this technology to be demonstrated in Welsh waters, building on the Marine Energy Test Area we are also developing in the Haven.”
A development consent application for the floating wind farm could be submitted in 2020 and the first electricity generated by 2024.
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