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Norway oil giant floats idea for bobbing windmills

An anchored Hywind prototype developed by Statoil will undergo two years of testing. The company is looking to install more floating wind turbine test farms in possibly Scotland or Maine.

The world's first large-scale floating windmill being anchored in Norway in June 2009.
Oyvind Hagen / Statoil

A group of scientists and engineers in Norway are testing a flotation device that could support offshore wind turbines so that they don't have to be built on shoals.

StatoilHydro, a division of the oil giant Statoil, said Thursday its Hywind floating wind turbine installed about 10 kilometers off the coast of Karmoy, Norway, in June 2009 is a success.

As a result, the company is planning to test an entire farm of Hywind turbines in Norway, and is looking to install more test farms in rough-water areas like Scotland and Maine.

The Hywind turbine is not a completely new type of wind turbine mind you, but an innovative modded version of an existing wind turbine already manufactured by Siemens. StatoilHydro claims that it's the world's first large-scale floating windmill.

The 2.3-megawatt turbine rests on and attaches to a special floating structure developed by the French tech company Technip. The Hywind currently being tested off Norway's coast is anchored via a three-point mooring spread attached to the ocean floor 200 meters below. StatoilHydro says the Hywind is capable of being placed in areas with ocean depths between 120 and 700 meters.

Map of the current Hywind test project about 10 kilometers off the southwestern coast of Norway. Statoil

Statoil has invested about 400 million Norwegian kroner (about $65 million) in the project with an additional 59 million Norwegian kroner (about $10 million) investment from Enova, a public company owned by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy.

The goal is not to see how much energy can be generated from the Hywind turbine, but to perfect a complete flotation system for offshore turbines that can withstand rough wind and waves, Statoil said in a statement.

A commercial version of the Hywind could free wind developers from the current challenge of finding and securing places to put offshore wind farms. If wind farms don't need to be installed on shoals, it will give governments and developers a lot more options as to where offshore wind farms can be placed.

Correction at 6:45 a.m. PDT August 20: This story initially attributed funding to the wrong company. Enova, an energy technology company owned by a branch of the Norwegian government, is an investor in Hywind. The project has not received investment from the international EV truck and bus manufacturer of the same name.