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There are many advantages to wind power, the least of which is zero-emissions electricity.  Now, several innovative companies worldwide are exploring the idea of creating floating wind turbines anchored to platforms far out to sea that connect to the seabed to harness the power of the ocean winds.

In September, the first full-scale floating wind turbine was launched in the North Sea off Norway.  Called Hywind, the 2.3-megawatt wind turbine was hauled six miles out to sea by tugboats and installed on a floater traditionally used for production platforms and offshore loading buoys. 

The turbine’s tower is bolted to a steel cylinder that extends more than 300 feet below the surface and is connected to the seabed with three anchor points.The Norwegian oil-and-gas company, Statoil, developed Hywind , using its experience in the marketplace to focus on renewable energy. 

Once attached to a transmission cable, the floating wind turbine began supplying electricity to Norway’s power grid on September 21st.    The company has allocated more than $80 million to the development and build out of the Hywind pilot project, along with research and development of the wind turbine concept.

Environmentalists believe that that deepwater wind is stronger and more consistent, thus enabling floating wind turbines to generate more power than land-based turbines.  The costs of these projects, however, include not just the wind turbines, but also undersea transmission cables and transmission lines, and the cranes and barges necessary to assemble the platforms in deep water. 

Still, the idea is catching on quickly.Last November, executives from Statoil held a meeting at the University of Maine’s Orono research and development facility after having earlier signed an agreement allowing Statloil to begin deep-water testing of commercial wind turbine technology in the Gulf of Maine.

According to Habib J. Dagher of the university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, the goal is to build an offshore wind farm off the coast of Maine.  The University of Maine was recently awarded an $8 million grant from the Department of Energy to set up a consortium to focus on research for the development of floating wind turbines and deep-water technology.

Last March, Principle Power, Inc ., a U.S. technology developer focused on the offshore wine energy market, and Energias de Portugal (EDP), a major European energy utility operating in Portugal, Spain, and Brazil, signed an agreement for the phased development of a deepwater offshore wind power project located off the coast of Portugal called WindFloat. 

EDP is the fourth-largest wind-energy producer in the world.  The first phase of the project is the fabrication and installation on a single WindFloat floating wind turbine for technology demonstrations.Last October, Blue H USA , a subsidiary of a Dutch company, applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to test a deepwater offshore platform in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. 

Blue H installed the world’s first prototype floating wind turbine in 2008 in the Strait of Otranto off the coast of Puglia in southern Italy.And most recently, in November the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Ocean Renewable Energy announced it will receive $700,000 in federal stimulus money to test the country’s first floating deepwater wind turbine in the western North Atlantic. 

The grant was one of three wind energy projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; this is the only offshore project.The floating platform, which has been delayed for years over concerns that it could be seen from land, is expected to be tested about six miles offshore. 

The 10-kilowatt turbine on a 60-foot tower will measure wave, wind, and temperatures on the turbine, the platform, and the mooring lines to which they are anchored.  The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that wind energy might one day supply 20 percent of America’s electricity needs.

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