Windmills have been around for thousands of years. They served a variety of functions, such as creating power to run mills and pump water. In the 1970s, due to the increasing expense of fossil fuels combined with more aggressive advocacy by environmentalists, the windmill took on new life. Wind farms began to pop up across the world. Many farmers began to lease out their land for wind farms, benefiting from another source of income. But, this approach had its limits, so wind energy scientists and developers turned to the ocean, where the winds are constant and extremely vigorous. But, grounded wind turbine platforms in the oceans also have limitations.
Now, there is a new development in the challenge to harness the wind—floating windmills or turbines. Five kilometers from the coast of Portugal is a new prototype—a turbine floating on the water. Known as the Windfloat turbine this is the latest product to come from efforts to create a wind turbine that can withstand the surge of the ocean waters, and grab the awesome winds that are constantly above it.
The possibilities are particularly exciting for Japan, who after the Fukushima meltdown, is anxiously looking for other alternative energy sources.
The most offshore wind farms in the world are in the waters off the UK. With 101 offshore wind farms, it leads the world in offshore wind energy development. They are looking forward to a 2016 delivery of their first floating wind turbines.
As far-fetched as the idea may sound, considering the gale force winds that can topple an ocean ship, hundreds of millions of dollars have already been invested in developing prototypes and in excess of 40 floating turbine prototypes are in the development lab.
The Portuguese floating wind turbine is only the second to be deployed so far and it managed to survive the vicious winter weather of Portugal’s seas. Its blades hover 120m above the water, and it is sitting on a floating, triangular platform that is 35m on each side. The EU has promised to invest 50M Euro to develop and deploy an additional three or four floating turbines to be deployed off the Portuguese coast by 2017.
In May, the US Department of Energy announced a $47M grant to Principal Power, Inc. an offshore wind energy technology developer, to develop a 30-watt, floating wind farm off the Oregon coast. Consisting of five wind turbines, it will be the first offshore wind farm on the western coast of the US. The turbines will float in waters 350 meters deep where the winds are the strongest.