Winds of change

Beautiful peach and purple sky with offshore wind turbines
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Australia’s burgeoning offshore wind sector is set to power the next wave renewable energy generation, with estimates signalling potential for more than 2,000GW of offshore wind turbines to be installed within 100km of current electricity substations. Here, Energy Source & Distribution looks at proposed offshore wind projects around the country.

The International Energy Agency recently predicted offshore wind would become one of the big three sources of renewable energy globally, and Australia is poised to capitalise on its potential to become a world leader in this sector.

According to Clayton Utz research, the global boom in offshore wind has lowered turbine costs and accelerated development in technology including the size and design of turbines, allowing offshore wind to upscale rapidly as part of our energy transition. As floating turbine technology is further developed and becomes cheaper, we will likely see a greater uptake of offshore wind farms in Australia, as our best resources are located in deeper water that is unsuitable for fixed turbines. 

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In addition, offshore wind projects located close to current renewable energy projects have the potential to capitalise on existing infrastructure and established grid connections. These projects may also create job opportunities for workers from retired coal-fired power stations. 

Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre has identified the Hunter, Illawarra and Gippsland regions as offshore wind hotspots based on the abundantly windy offshore conditions at times of low onshore wind and solar generation, creating more reliable year-round generation capacity.

The federal government has announced the Bass Strait off Gippsland as Australia’s first priority area to be assessed for suitability for offshore wind developments. The government will evaluate and announce further areas for development as they are identified and prioritised, once the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act 2021 commences in June. 

Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre Report contributor Dr Chris Briggs, research director at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, 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.

Similarly, principal research scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Dr Mark Hemer said offshore wind could be particularly important under “energy superpower” scenarios involving mass electrification of industry and transport and hydrogen production for domestic use and export.

However, Han Wang, energy modelling and analytics analyst at Cornwall Insight Australia, said we must consider the network investment required to support offshore wind resources.

“Our research shows the broad potential for offshore wind power in Australia, with its significant role in stabilising wholesale prices hopefully helping to reduce consumer energy bills,” Wang said.

“However, we should not go into this with rose tinted glasses. When the wind is blowing, we have a stable energy source, but what happens when it does not? … If we want to avoid volatile pricing during low wind periods, then investment in technology such as battery storage will be essential.  

Related article: Gippsland named first offshore wind priority area

“It is also important to recognise that wholesale prices at only 34 per cent of electricity bills are not the whole story. Installing offshore wind may require substantial network investment, the recovery of which will ultimately land with consumers through their network costs.” 

There are currently 19 potential offshore wind projects in various stages around Australia, with the most advanced being the massive Star of the South. Proposed to be located off the south coast of Gippsland, it has the potential to supply up to 20 per cent of Victoria’s electricity needs while creating jobs and investment.

Star of the South is currently working on detailed environmental assessments throughout this year, with 25 technical reports being prepared.

Below, we’ve compiled a snapshot of Australia’s offshore wind project pipeline. 

Graphic map of Australia's offshore wind projects
Image copyright TMPC