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Equinor, Eni to pioneer Norwegian floating wind power
A pair of European energy companies are looking to use Norway's offshore oil production experience as a starting point for its emerging floating offshore wind sector.
Norway's state-controlled Equinor and Vårgrønn, a joint venture of Italy's Eni with Norwegian equity firm HitecVision, plan to develop floating offshore wind off Utsira and Haugalandet in Norwegian waters, according to a 6 May statement.
Norway relies on hydropower for 95% of its electricity needs, and it also had 2.2 GW of onshore wind power capacity at the end of 2019, according to IHS Markit data. It does not yet have any operational offshore wind farms.
Deep, rough waters, and an uneven seabed make Norwegian waters less friendly than those of other European nations for bottom-fixed wind turbines, but the floating wind sector may grow in cost-competitiveness as the technology develops, according to a report on offshore wind commissioned by Norway's Ministry of Oil and Energy.
Authorities in Norway announced an application process for an initial buildout of 4.5 GW of offshore renewables, including floating wind power, in June 2020. The power will likely be exported.
Eni has been active in oil exploration and production in Norway since 1965, and it's not exiting the oil business even as the company rapidly expands its renewables activity.
Sustainability and financing aims are both on Eni's radar. Eni's floating wind foray follows the release of a plan to potentially take its renewable operations public in 2022.
Eni also remains focused on its internal energy transition goals since setting an ambitious absolute emissions target in February that sets it apart from its oil-producing contemporaries.
It has announced its intention to reach net-zero on Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions across all energy products by 2050 in part through doubling of bio-refining capacity over the next four years while increasing the production and marketing of biomethane and hydrogen. Its decarbonization plans include adding carbon capture and storage technologies and REDD+ forest conservation projects.
Eni aims to reach net zero by 2050 in part by growing its renewable energy capacity from around 307 MW in 2020 to 60 GW, of which 15 GW will be installed by 2030. It added 90 MW last year through a solar and wind partnership with Falck Renewables in the US, and 25 MW thanks to two solar farms it built in Australia, it said in a 12 May sustainability report. Eni's joint venture company Vårgrønn is targeting 1 GW of generation capacity by 2030.
For its own sustainability plan, Equinor will hike the capacity of its offshore wind and solar assets to 4 GW to 6 GW by 2026 from 1.3 GW currently. It also has plans to cut its absolute emissions in Norway to near zero by 2050.
Equinor has hailed floating wind as the "next big breakthrough in renewables" on its website.
Norway's wind resources are among the best in the world, with the potential to drive commercialization of global floating offshore wind while benefitting Norwegian industry as a whole, Equinor said in the statement.
Equinor is just starting to tackle commercial-scale floating wind dynamics in its own backyard though. In October 2020, it launched construction of a separate floating wind project, the 88-MW Hywind Tampen facility, which is set to power oil and gas installations for the Snorre and Gullfaks offshore field operations in the Norwegian North Sea in 2022.
The state-controlled company had successfully launched a separate 30-MW operation at Hywind, which it called the world's first floating wind farm, in 2017 following on from starting a demonstration of floating wind at the site in Scotland in 2009, and successful efforts to cut capital expenditure per MW for floating offshore wind projects.
A larger Scottish floating wind project, Cobra Group's 50-MW Kincardine facility, is set to start operations in 2021.
Like Norway's government, the authorities in Scotland are moving quickly to grow offshore renewables. Scotland launched the first round of seabed leasing for offshore wind in over a decade. Meanwhile, the UK government has announced it will soon lease land rights for commercial-scale floating wind projects in the Celtic Sea, with a planned capacity of around 300 MW each.
Floating wind will be necessary for the UK to reach its target of net-zero emissions by 2050, and Scotland's target of net-zero emissions by 2045, according to a report on the sector by trade association RenewableUK and its counterpart Scottish Renewables.
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