Offshore wind turbines could turn Australia into an energy superpower
Offshore wind farms are increasingly common abroad. But Australia has neglected technology, despite the strong gusts of wind that shake much of our coastline.
New research confirms that Australia’s offshore wind resources offer vast potential for both power generation and new jobs. In fact, the wind conditions off southern Australia rival those in the North Sea, between Britain and Europe, where the offshore wind industry is well established.
More than ten offshore wind farms are currently proposed for Australia. If they were built, their combined capacity would be greater than that of all the coal-fired power plants in the country.
Offshore wind projects can offer a win-win solution for Australia: creating jobs for workers displaced from fossil fuels, replacing energy supplies lost when coal-fired power plants shut down, and helping Australia become a superpower in the world. renewable energies.
It is now
Globally, offshore wind is booming. The UK plans to quadruple offshore wind capacity to 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, enough to power every household in the country. Other jurisdictions also have ambitious offshore wind targets for 2030, including the European Union (60 GW), the United States (30 GW), South Korea (12 GW) and Japan (10 GW) ).
Australian coastal waters are relatively deep, which limits the possibility of attaching offshore wind turbines to the ocean floor. This, combined with Australia’s vast onshore wind and solar resources, means that offshore wind has been overlooked in the planning of Australia’s energy system.
But recent changes are creating new opportunities for Australia. The development of larger turbines has created economies of scale that reduce technological costs. And the foundations of floating turbines, which can operate in very deep water, open up access to windier offshore sites.
More than ten offshore wind projects are proposed in Australia. Star of the South, which will be built off Gippsland in Victoria, is the most advanced. Others include those from Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.
Our study aimed to examine the potential of offshore wind power for Australia.
First, we looked at the locations considered feasible for offshore wind projects, namely those which were:
- less than 100 km from the shore
- less than 100 km from substations and transmission lines (excluding restricted environmental zones)
- in water depths less than 1000 meters.
Wind resources at these locations totaled 2,233 GW of capacity and would generate far more than current and projected electricity demand across Australia.
Second, we looked at what is called the “capacity factor” – the ratio of the energy that an offshore wind turbine would generate with the winds available at a location, compared to the potential maximum power of the wind turbine.
The best sites were in southern Tasmania, with a capacity factor of 80%. The next best sites were in the Bass Strait and off Western Australia and North Queensland (55%), followed by South Australia and New South Wales (45%). In comparison, the capacity factor of onshore wind turbines is typically 35-45%.
Average annual wind speeds in the Bass Strait, around Tasmania and along the continent’s southwest coast are equal to those in the North Sea, where offshore wind is an established industry. Wind conditions in southern Australia are also more favorable than in eastern China and the Yellow Sea, which are growing areas for commercial wind farms.
Next, we compared the offshore wind resources on an hourly basis to the production of onshore solar and wind farms at 12 sites in Australia.
At most sites, offshore wind continued to operate at high capacity during periods when onshore wind and solar production was low. For example, weather data shows that the wind at sea at the location of the South Star is especially strong on hot days when the demand for energy is high.
Australia’s fleet of coal-fired power plants is aging, and the exact date when each facility will be decommissioned is uncertain. This creates risks of disruption in the energy supply, but offshore wind power could help mitigate this. A single offshore wind project can be up to five times the size of an onshore wind project.
Some of the best sites for offshore winds are located near the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. These regions have a strong electricity grid infrastructure built around coal-fired power plants, and offshore wind projects could connect to them via submarine cables.
And offshore wind power construction can also avoid the planning conflicts and community opposition that sometimes plague onshore renewable energy developments.
Winds of change
Our research revealed that offshore wind could help Australia become a renewable energy “superpower”. As Australia seeks to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, sectors such as transport will need an increased supply of renewable energy. Clean energy will also be needed to produce hydrogen for export and to make “green” steel and aluminum.
Offshore wind can also support a ‘just transition’ – in other words, ensuring that fossil fuel workers and their communities are not left behind in the transition to a low carbon economy.
Our research revealed that offshore wind could create around 8,000 jobs depending on the scenario used in our study – almost as many as those employed in Australia’s offshore oil and gas sector.
Many skills used in the oil and gas industry, such as those in construction, safety and mechanics, overlap with those required in offshore wind energy. Coal workers could also be re-employed in offshore wind turbine manufacturing, port assembly and engineering.
Realizing these opportunities through offshore wind will take time as well as proactive policy and planning. Our report includes ten recommendations, including:
- establish a regulatory regime in Commonwealth waters
- integrate offshore wind power into energy planning and innovation financing
- continue to research the cost-benefits of the sector to ensure Australia meets its commitments to a well-managed sustainable ocean economy.
If we succeed, offshore wind can play a crucial role in Australia’s energy transition.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. By Sven Teske, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; Chris Briggs, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; Mark Hemer, Senior Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO; Philip Marsh, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Tasmania, and Rusty Langdon, Research Consultant, Sydney University of Technology