The time of offshore wind

Will it finally be the year that floating wind power takes off in Spain? It is one of the big questions that have been raised at the recent annual Wind Europe congress held in Bilbao. In Spain today, there is only one offshore wind turbine connected to the grid (as well as some other prototypes, for example in the Canary Islands, but without connection). It was inaugurated in September 2023 and is a demonstration project, called DemoSath, developed by the Basque company Saitec Offshore Technologies, together with RWE Renovables and The Kansai Electric Power Co. The 2MW wind turbine model can supply the consumption of 2,000 homes a year.

Spain aims to have between 1 and 3 GW of floating type offshore wind power by 2030. It is the only possible one because the coast reaches great depths a short distance from the shore. To give you an idea, the DemoSATH prototype is only two nautical miles away and at that distance the sea floor is already 85 meters deep. This partly explains why offshore wind (fixed base) is already at full capacity in Germany, the United Kingdom and Norway, while in Spain there are only experimental projects so far (fixed installations are not viable with seabeds of more of 5060 meters). The sector hopes that 2024 will be the year when floating wind power officially starts in Spain. And a few weeks ago the draft decree of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition that will govern these facilities was published. In 2023, the Maritime Space Management Plans (POEM) were also approved, which included for the first time wind energy among the uses (fishing, recreational activities, research…) that can be given to some maritime areas. Up to 19 areas have been identified that occupy 5,000 m2 of the 10,000 m2 of coastline. The areas identified and where it is most likely that floating wing will begin are the Canary Islands, Galicia, the Alboran Sea area and Catalonia. However, the industry warns of delays in achieving objectives if a first energy auction does not take place by the end of this year: «Taking into account that the development time of these projects is between 6 and 7 years. However, Portugal already has a 10 MW commercial floating park in operation and France has already held an auction for 250 MW of floating offshore that must be resolved imminently. This French auction is highly anticipated, because it is of the three-in-one type, like the one being proposed in Spain. It means that they guarantee network connection, space reservation and the price that you have offered for the sale of energy. In the United Kingdom we see that another type is being considered; The exclusivity of use of the marine space is auctioned in a first phase and subsequently a rate auction is carried out. Why are we not advancing at the same pace as Portugal or France or the United Kingdom? “Perhaps it has not been taken as a state priority as it has been done in these other countries,” comments David Carrascosa, director of operations at Saitec.

Spain aims to have between 1 and 3 GW of floating wind power by 2030, Portugal hopes to have 10 GW and the United Kingdom more than 20 GW, so the question is: is there time to reach these objectives in such a short time when currently in In Europe there are only four experimental floating parks (in Scotland, Norway, France and Portugal)? «Floating is an evolution, not a revolution. The same turbines and ships can be used, but there are challenges such as carrying out industrial processes or obtaining financing, because at the moment it is a new technology. The floating wind market will be in California, in the Mediterranean, in Asia, which is where the continental shelves are very deep,” says Chris Willow, director of floating wind developments at the firm RWE.

Why it takes so long?

For Juan Virgilio Márquez, general director of the Wind Business Association (AEE), the answer is clear: «We have to fit all the pieces in a market that today does not yet exist, that is, that is in the process of creation. What do we need? “Regulation, auctions are launched and a business network is prepared and has financial strength.” And working at sea increases costs and sizes. If we talk about installation prices that reach one million euros per MW on land, at sea everything skyrockets. To get an idea of ​​the figures that have been discussed at the congress: a shovel can be hundreds of thousands of euros and a floating platform several million. «When talking about money, one parameter is usually used: the cost of energy. Offshore, the cost of energy would be more than 100 euros per MW (onshore is around 46 euros and photovoltaic is around 45 euros per MW),” say the technicians at the Tecnalia research center. «We cannot expect a floating offshore park to have the costs of photovoltaic solar or onshore wind, but we are going to contribute other things. We need a totally renewable energy mix by 2050 in Europe and we have to use all energies

that we can and that includes taking advantage of the energy of the sea,” Carrascosa clarifies.


The industrial sector wanted to show its chest during this congress held in Bilbao and demonstrate that it is prepared for the development of this new market. Just to give an example, if there are around 50 platform patents for offshore wind power worldwide, 14 are Spanish. However, no one denies that there are pending challenges. One of them is the ports. It is estimated that the community executive would have to invest around 8.5 billion euros by 2030 if it wants to develop the full potential of this energy.

Ports need to adapt to the needs of this industry which, among other things, needs more space. If wind turbines of up to 8 MW are installed on land, requiring blade lengths of around 80 m, when we talk about marine installations, wind turbines reach up to 12-15 MW, mills whose blade length exceeds one hundred meters. To this we must add the towers, the platforms, the submarine cable, the transformers (which look like residential buildings, etc.). Offshore wind makes sense, experts say, when parts are manufactured close to the point of installation so ports become fundamental to these developments. «Port capacity is a challenge in Europe, although perhaps in Spain we can mitigate it a little more. When you start designing this type of structures it is easy to make comparisons and one that we made is of a mill with the Eiffel Tower. When the market has reached industrial figures and asks us to build one of these towers every week, we are going to need hectares in the ports and places for storage,” Carrascosa details. In Spain, ports such as Bilbao or La Coruña are preparing for the new demands. «The port is an ally of the factory and those that are close to the producers (here in the surrounding area there are more than 150 companies) have to adapt in terms of infrastructure, land and land connections. The equipment must arrive at the port, be loaded on a ship and exported economically and quickly,” says Andima Ormaetxe, Commercial and Operations Director of the Port of Bilbao.

This year's congress represents a way for the industry to stick out its chest and show off its good health after three years of hard setbacks: logistical delays caused by Covid and armed conflicts, increased inflation and costs, financial problems of some of the large European companies and even the operational deficiencies of some projects. However, representatives of the European industry are optimistic: “permits for the installation of new onshore parks have increased by 70% in countries such as Germany or Spain,” they say from Wind Europe (it brings together more than 500 members from across the value chain). In 2023, more wind power will be installed in Europe than ever before. Nor should we forget that at the end of 2023 the Wind Power Package was approved in Brussels to help the sector against Chinese competition. This package of measures of 15 actions has been ratified by 26 countries in the so-called European Wind Charter. During the congress, AEE and Miteco signed the Spanish Wind Energy Charter, a joint declaration, in which they commit to strengthening the sector's manufacturing capacity and advancing electrification.

The challenge of social acceptance

The AEE classifies social acceptance as one of the five most important challenges of the wind sector. An example of this rejection is represented by the Galician fishermen who have pointed out up to 11 irregularities in the POEM (most of the areas of interest for offshore wind installation are off the Galician and Asturian coasts). «We have to count the projects better and get closer to the areas where they are going to be developed. In Galicia perhaps too many projects have been announced from Madrid without understanding the complexity of society. Groups such as fishermen or the tourism sector must be approached and understand what exactly these advertisements mean. We are not going to put walls of wind turbines along the entire coast. If you are in the industry you know that of all the projects that are announced, only one will be installed, but these things must be explained well,” says the director of Saitec.