Further, deeper, windier: how floating concrete can propel offshore wind

7th May 2024

The opportunity to install turbines in deeper waters, where winds tend to be stronger opens up the potential for more offshore wind in UK seas.  

Floating offshore wind (FOW) technology is still in its infancy.  Around 80 megawatts of a total of 32 gigawatts uses floating turbines but the technology provides an opportunity to be an important part of the UK’s energy mix.

Here are five things you need to know about FOW and concrete: 

The UK has pledged to deliver 5GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 

While FOW currently represents a small part of the UK’s renewable energy generation, both the Conservative and Labour parties have pledged to deliver 5GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. 

Sir Kier Starmer, leader of the Labour Party has promised that there would be a share of an £8.3bn budget for GB Energy, a state-owned renewable power generation company dedicated to expanding the UK’s FOW technology.  

Compared with traditional fixed wind turbines, floating bases provide the opportunity for new offshore wind sites as they can be used over larger areas and in deeper waters. With greater access to locations that are further offshore and have a higher wind potential, floating bases give the industry an opportunity to provide more clean energy.

Concrete makes strong, durable bases for FOW 

To create floating turbine bases, concrete can be used to provide a stable foundation for wind turbines. As well as being able to float, concrete is extremely durable and can withstand the rough weather conditions out at sea. 

BW Ideol, a leader in the development of FOW technology, has shown through rigorous testing that the concrete bases do not crack, allowing no water ingress from being in the sea. 

Once the wind turbines reach the end of their long lifecycle, as a fully recyclable material, the concrete can also be reused and repurposed for other projects. 

Concrete sub-structures can be manufactured directly in UK ports 

The UK’s concrete supply chain is well placed to support the expansion of FOW farms – the floating bases can be manufactured with locally sourced concrete, a clear contrast to the alternative steel bases which would require transport of materials across the UK or importing from overseas. Concrete manufacturing facilities can be set up in ports to create the bases at the direct point of use, with the minimal transportation needed helping to reduce carbon emissions. 

With ongoing developments in the use of lower carbon concrete mixtures, such as the new BS 8500 standard, more of the CEM I content in concrete can be replaced with cementitious by-products from other industries  These developments demonstrate that there is now more room to reduce the carbon associated with the production of concrete without compromising the material’s strength. 

FOW can boost regional economies and create local jobs  

With production lines set up in ports there will be creation of skilled jobs in each location, giving regional economies an important boost.  

BW Ideol has recently been given long term access to develop  a FOW base in the Scottish Highlands which is estimated to support 2,000 jobs, achieving production of one concrete floating sub-structure per week. 

The UK is in a good geographical position 

The UK’s geographical position means that it experiences consistent strong winds from the North Atlantic Ocean and benefits from having the North Sea off the east coast.  With the floating offshore turbines ideal for use in deeper waters further out to sea, the strong winds can be harnessed more effectively to boost the UK’s production of renewable energy.

In our drive to reach a net zero economy, innovation in the UK energy sector is vital.  It’s clear that FOW provides a sustainable solution to support this, with concrete playing an important role in being reliable, sustainably sourced and durable. 

Images courtesy of BW Ideol / V. Joncheray