Australia has ‘huge potential’ for offshore wind

Offshore wind farm at sunset
Image: Shutterstock

New research from Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre says Australia has the potential to develop a substantial offshore wind energy industry, with abundant resources available near existing electricity substations across the continent, The Guardian reports.

The report said Australia was yet to capitalise on its significant offshore wind potential despite the International Energy Agency nominating it as one of the “big three” likely sources of renewable energy globally alongside solar and onshore wind.

It said more than 2,000GW of offshore wind turbines—far greater than Australia’s existing generation capacity—could be installed in areas within 100km of existing substations. Environmentally restricted and low-wind areas were excluded from the assessment.

Related article: Leading wind CEOs urge G20 to ‘get serious’ about renewables

Electricity generation hubs in the Hunter Valley, Latrobe Valley and Gladstone were found to be particularly suitable as they were close to transmission grids and had strong offshore winds at times when solar and onshore wind output was limited.

Report contributor Dr Chris Briggs, research director at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, said there had been a view in the energy industry that offshore wind energy would not play as significant a role in Australia as some other countries due to the availability of much cheaper solar and onshore wind energy.

He said that was starting to change as people recognised the scale of the clean energy transition required and what offshore wind could deliver.

“The combination of the scale, falling cost and the development of floating wind turbines means it has come into focus,” he said.

Briggs said offshore wind could be built on a much larger scale than solar or onshore wind—up to 2GW for a project—and could generate more electricity per megawatt of capacity.

“This could be very valuable in the late 2020s and 2030s as we see coal plants retiring,” he said.

The project’s leader, Dr Mark Hemer of the CSIRO, said offshore wind could be particularly important under “energy superpower” scenarios that involved mass electrification of industry and transport and hydrogen production for domestic use and export.

Related article: Windmill to wind turbine: an abridged history of wind power

The report said there were 10 offshore wind projects with a combined capacity of 25GW in development in Australia, all in their early stages. The most advanced is the $10 billion Star of the South 2.2GW windfarm planned off the South Gippsland coast in Victoria.

The federal government is yet to finalise the regulatory framework necessary for an offshore wind industry to develop. The report said it could help develop an industry by supporting the technology through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, incorporating it into planning for the national hydrogen strategy, and considering allocation of marine space in commonwealth waters.

The work was partly funded by the maritime, electrical and manufacturing unions. They called on federal and state governments to take immediate steps to support the development of an industry, saying it had the potential to create jobs for workers in fossil fuel industries.