This rendering depicts Hywind turbines bobbing in the water, with their tethers affixed to the floor below. Statoil

Energy company Statoil plans to get things running by the end of 2017.

Offshore wind farms are venturing out of the shallows.

Conventional turbines sit on a tower affixed to the ground, which makes it hard to reach the high winds out on the open seas. As of Monday, the Norwegian energy company Statoil has secured a lease to set up five 6-megawatt turbines 15 miles off the eastern coast of Scotland, The Guardian reports. Conventional wind turbines get prohibitively expensive at depths beyond 40 meters, but this pilot program will set up shop in 100 meters of North Sea brine.

How can they do that? By floating. Instead of building all the way up from the sea floor, the Hywind turbine sits on top of a steel tube that is weighed down with ballast. This is then secured to the sea floor with three anchored cables, while a stabilizing mechanism keeps the whole contraption from flailing all over the place. It all sounds a bit fantastic, but Statoil’s initial demonstration turbine has been capturing wind energy in deep waters since 2009.

What’s really exciting about this is that choppy plots of open sea attract far fewer competing interests than just about any onshore area in a developed country. Wind projects on land have to compete with existing land uses, not to mention neighbors who often aren’t thrilled about the sight and sound of giant rotors popping up in their scenic views. Clean energy demand (and energy demand more broadly) is concentrated in cities, but that’s where there’s the least open land for large-scale renewable energy installations. That pushes these interventions out to sparsely populated areas, where residents might not enjoy these disruptions that mostly benefit the urban cores. Situating new wind farms far offshore neatly evades the pitfalls of land-use politics.

As developed spaces fill up, the ocean becomes an inviting alternative. Scotland has also pursued underwater turbines to catch the tidal flow between their mainland and the Orkney Islands. Over in California, Microsoft has already tested offshore data farms as a way to run its cloud services without the usual land and energy requirements. It will be important to study what effect these have on the marine environment—just because humans don’t live down there doesn’t mean it’s empty—but given the disastrous effects fossil fuels are having on the oceans, the trade-off seems pretty clear.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Amazon Go Might Kill More Than Just Supermarkets

    Supermarkets are community anchors. Amazon’s “just walk out” version embodies a disconcerting social transformation.

  2. Transportation

    The EU Is Giving Teens a Month of Free Train Travel Across Europe

    The cultural enrichment plan could change young lives, and maybe even revive the heyday of the Interrail train pass.

  3. Riot police protect members of the Ku Klux Klan from counter-protesters

    Where Hate Groups Are Concentrated in the U.S.

    Organized hate groups are found in 340 counties—but those counties spread across every state of the union.

  4. A young refugee from Kosovo stands in front of a map of Hungary with her teacher.

    Who Maps the World?

    Too often, men. And money. But a team of OpenStreetMap users is working to draw new cartographic lines, making maps that more accurately—and equitably—reflect our space.

  5. It's Google Street View, but with a dose of cuteness.

    Take a Virtual Tour of Japan With 3 Very Good Boys

    Three Akita dogs guide you through their home city of Odate on Google Street View.