All eyes on Australia’s next offshore wind zone

Floating offshore wind turbines against cloudy blue sky (offshore wind)
Image: Shutterstock

Energy Source & Distribution looks at the case for a new offshore wind zone in the Hunter region, and the four proposed offshore wind projects currently being considered.

The Federal Government recently opened consultations for a new offshore wind zone in the Pacific Ocean off the Hunter Coast in New South Wales—a manufacturing powerhouse and home to the nation’s largest smelter. 

The government says an offshore wind industry in this region could support the decarbonisation and future of onshore manufacturing powered by cheaper, cleaner energy. This new renewable energy industry has the potential to create 3000-8000 jobs in Australia every year. Where international offshore wind farms have been established, the main pathways into the industry have been from the energy sector and existing offshore industries.

Related article: Consultation opens for Hunter offshore wind industry

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said he was looking forward to hearing from the community about the best way offshore electricity can be harnessed in the region and was encouraging locals to engage with community discussions and online submissions.

“The world’s climate emergency is regional Australia’s jobs opportunity, and the Hunter is uniquely placed to capitalise on this,” Mr Bowen said.

“An offshore wind zone in the Hunter presents significant opportunities to create new energy sector and manufacturing jobs, drive economic growth and reduce emissions.

“I’m encouraging residents from across the Hunter to have their say on the proposed area and what they would like to see from this offshore zone.”

The Hunter is one of six priority regions around Australia with world-class offshore wind potential. The government recently declared Gippsland off the La Trobe Valley as the first official region in Australia to be home to a new offshore wind industry. It has earmarked other regions around the country as potential offshore wind zones, including the Bass Strait region off Northern Tasmania, and the Indian Ocean region off Perth/Bunbury in Western Australia.

Despite having some of the best wind resources in the world, Australia currently doesn’t have any operational offshore wind generation. The most advanced offshore wind project, Star of the South, has been given major project status to help fast-track its progress.

The IEA classifies offshore wind as a “variable baseload technology” which makes it closer to the capacity of gas and coal-fired power plants, than onshore wind and solar PV. For context, just one rotation of one offshore wind turbine provides as much energy as an average rooftop solar installation generates in one day, with less fluctuation than onshore wind.

So, what makes the Hunter region ripe for offshore wind opportunities? 

According to offshore wind developer Oceanex, the Hunter could become home to an Australian Offshore Wind Energy Hub. 

Related article: BlueFloat announces new 1.7GW offshore wind project

“The Hunter is the ideal location for both the construction and operation of an offshore wind industry which requires deep water for vessel movement and direct access to Port of Newcastle,” the company stated.

“In partnership with the University of Newcastle, there are significant opportunities for New South Wales to develop innovations in floating fountains, mooring systems, welding automation and robotics and advanced materials research in the marine environment.”

It also said floating technology was a significant opportunity for Australian steel producers and fabricators to work with designers to shape design and then undertake most of the manufacturing in the Hunter region. Given the size of floating foundations and the modularity of most designs, it makes sense that foundations are manufactured close to Port of Newcastle.

(Image: EDF Renewables)

Proposed projects located in the Hunter offshore wind zone

Novocastrian Offshore Wind Farm

Developer: Oceanex and Equinor
Capacity: 2GW
Current status: Feasibility phase
Construction start: 2028
Energisation: 2031

Norwegian energy company Equinor and Australian/New Zealand offshore wind developer Oceanex Energy have teamed up to develop the Novocastrian Offshore Wind Farm in the proposed Hunter offshore wind region. Given the deep water off the coast of NSW, the Novocastrian Offshore Wind Farm will utilise floating foundation technology where turbines are deployed in water depths greater than 70 metres. Located 20km from the Newcastle coastline, the wind farm will be close to strong existing grid infrastructure, reducing the need for large investment in new onshore electricity infrastructure. Novocastrian Offshore Wind Farm will create around 3,000 direct jobs during construction and a further 300 jobs during its 30-year operational life. 

Hunter-Central Coast Offshore Energy Project

Developer: Energy Estate
Capacity: 1.65GW
Current status: Feasibility phase
Construction start: 2027
Energisation: 2030

In October 2022, Spanish offshore developer BlueFloat Energy and Australian renewable developer Energy Estate announced they had expanded the size of their proposed Hunter-Central Coast Offshore Energy Project from 1.4GW to 1.65GW. The Hunter-Central Coast Offshore Energy Project is expected to be built 25-55km from the coast. comprising 110 floating turbines, each with a capacity between 15MW and 20MW, as well as three floating substations. The increase in the capacity of the project to 1.65GW is a result of the detailed analysis of the investigation area and its potential for deployment of floating offshore wind technology. 

Newcastle Offshore Wind

Developer: EDF Renewables and Newcastle Offshore Wind
Capacity: Up to 10GW
Current status: Feasibility phase
Construction start: TBC
Energisation: TBC

In February, EDF Renewables in Australia announced its acquisition of the Newcastle Offshore Wind (NOW) project—a floating offshore wind project situated near the Port of Newcastle. Set to be developed in stages to support the government’s renewable targets and the progressive retirement of ageing coal-fired power stations in the region, EDF says the project capacity could eventually reach a massive 10GW.

Eastern Rise Offshore Wind Project

Developer: BlueFloat
Capacity: 1.725GW
Current status: Proposed
Construction start: TBC
Energisation: TBC

BlueFloat Energy has announced plans for a new floating offshore wind project. Eastern Rise Offshore Wind Project is the latest in BlueFloat Energy’s growing portfolio of projects across Australia. Eastern Rise Offshore Wind Project is set to be delivered over a development and construction period of seven years and will have an installed capacity of 1.725GW. Supporting the clean transition from coal-fired generation, the development of the Eastern Rise Offshore Wind Project aligns with BlueFloat Energy’s objective of accelerating the deployment of offshore wind as a key enabler for decarbonisation and regional economic development.  

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