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Innovations accelerate the race to put more wind turbines on the seafloor

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Innovations accelerate the race to put more wind turbines on the seafloor

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(Bloomberg) – It’s getting faster and cheaper to embed a wind tower the size of the Washington Monument into the bottom of the sea.

South Korea is reducing the time it takes to build and install a turbine offshore, from up to three months to just a few days, thanks to a large flat-bottomed ship to transport the structure and a “bucket suction” method of fixing. that. The innovations could cut an estimated $ 3 million from the process.

State-owned Korea Electric Power Corp. on Wednesday showed what it says is the first ship that can carry a fully built wind farm. A crane on the 1,500-ton ship, known as a multipurpose mobile base, or MMB, lifted a 140-meter-high (459-foot) wind tower built into the water near Gunsan’s western port.

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“By using MMB technology, we should be able to address our carbon neutrality target by 2050 and make a huge contribution to wind power, which is the central element in the nation’s transition,” said Kepco CEO, Cheong Seung-il, at the event. .

Innovations to reduce installation times and costs promise to help drive a global expansion of offshore wind that is already forecast to generate an 11-fold increase in capacity through 2035, according to Bloomberg NEF. Annual installations are expected to rise to a record 11 gigawatts this year and reach 32.5 gigawatts by the end of the decade, as nations add more renewable energy to phase out fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions.

China, which will account for nearly three-quarters of installations this year, and nascent markets in Asia such as Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam, will support that growth outlook, BNEF said in a report last month.

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The sea offers one of the best prospects for green energy in South Korea, where the climate and topography are not suitable for large onshore wind and solar plants, and conventional hydroelectric resources are used almost entirely. The country seeks to add 12 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, compared to less than 0.2 gigawatts now.

South Korea already has the world’s largest tidal power plant on Lake Sihwa and is adding the world’s largest offshore wind farm near Shinan.

See also: The world’s largest offshore wind farm takes shape in South Korea

Kepco is reducing the 90-day period it can take, in some circumstances, to build and place an offshore wind turbine. The company can set up a plant on land in seven days, and then MMB will ship it to the offshore location. Transporting the entire plant significantly reduces the time and cost of having to make multiple trips to deliver parts.

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The new process would reduce the cost of installing a 5-megawatt turbine by 43%, or 3.7 billion won ($ 3.3 million), according to a statement from Kepco.

The company is looking to increase the size of the MMBs to carry turbines of up to 14 megawatts that are being deployed in Europe, according to Ryu Moo Sung, principal investigator at the Kepco Research Institute. He said Germany’s RWE AG and Spain’s Ocean Winds have shown interest in Kepco’s boats.

Once the MMB is on the offshore site, it takes up to 12 hours to secure the tower to the ocean floor using a “suction bucket” technique. The method pumps water out of the buckets, creating pressure to push them toward the floor. The southwestern coast of South Korea is ideal for this technique due to the soft seabed.

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The new process is an improvement over traditional methods, which can create environmental problems as cement is injected into the seabed to build a foundation, Kepco said. Additionally, offshore construction is vulnerable to delays caused by inclement weather, which can further increase costs.

The time it takes to install a turbine offshore has been steadily decreasing, at a rate twice as fast as 10 years ago, according to a 2019 BNEF report. In the US, the Department of Energy and its partners, including the University of Delaware, they have also worked on accelerating the construction of offshore wind farms using suction bucket technology.

© 2021 Bloomberg LP

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In-depth reports on the economics of innovation from The Logic, presented in association with the Financial Post.

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