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France, Norway, UK: Which countries are leading the floating offshore wind race?

Offshore wind has become a staple of renewable energy production. But so far it has been mostly limited to shallow waters, restricting how many countries can take advantage of it.

That could soon change thanks to floating wind. The technology consists of a turbine mounted on a buoyant substructure and anchored to the seabed with chains. 

This means it can be deployed in seas of 300 metres deep and more, compared to the more traditional system of mounting turbines on the seabed, which becomes uneconomical in depths of more than 60 metres.

Because it allows wind production in deeper waters, the technology is expected to bring wind energy to new markets, including in the Mediterranean, and it is hoped that it will be fully commercial by the end of this decade.

“Floating offshore wind is a crucial player in the battle against climate change,” says Lorenzo Palombi, global commercial and finance director of projects at German-based energy company BayWa r.e.

“Its unique ability to tap into markets incompatible with bottom-fixed technologies and unlock areas with higher wind potential positions it as a key solution.”

Europe is currently leading on floating wind, according tofigures from the Global Wind Energy Council. 

The region lost its title as the world’s largest offshore wind market in 2022 with the US and China overtaking it in new additions. However, it still holds the top spot for floating, making up 79 per cent of new additions last year.

Overall, it boasts 208 megawatts of capacity - or 88 per cent of global installations. The majority of this comes from small demo projects, but countries are beginning to look at ramping up production to commercial level.

France is on track to develop the world’s first commercial floating wind farm. The Pennavel project will be built off the coast of Brittany and is scheduled to be commissioned by 2031. It is expected to produce 250 megawatts - enough to provide power for 450,000 people every year.

Meanwhile, the UK aims to reach five gigawatts of production by 2030 and is moving ahead with government support for projects. Eyes are also on Norway, which already has demo projects, as well as Ireland and Mediterranean countries.