Sætran would like to see wind turbines built as far out in the ocean as possible, so far out that only sea gulls and fishermen see them. (Illustration: Paul Sigve Amundsen/Tone Kvenild/NTNU Info)

Build floating wind turbines in the open ocean

Norway ought to put more effort into building floating wind turbines in the ocean, says Professor Lars Sætran at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Sætran would like to see wind turbines built as far out in the ocean as possible, so far out that only sea gulls and fishermen see them. Perhaps then people will think that it is OK to use wind power to provide electricity for their homes.

“One of the objections with wind turbines is that they ruin the view,” says Sætran, a professor at NTNU’s Department of Energy and Process Engineering.

Sætran often finds himself working against the wind. In NTNUs wind tunnel, he tries to find out how the wind escapes or gets caught. He thinks Norwegian politicians and environmentalists are being short-sighted by not putting more effort into developing wind power in Norway.

An obligation

“Norwegians have stumbled on all of the huge energy sources that we have, such as hydroelectric power, oil and gas. We have more than enough energy for ourselves. But I also think we should take a look over the horizon and think about the countries that need energy,” Sætran says.

“I think Norway has an obligation to develop and use the enormous potential we have in solar power. It is shameful that Norway doesn’t put more resources into building floating wind turbines at sea,” he says.

More wind than anyone else

The Norwegian coast is a windy place, among the windiest places in Europe. If this wind had been turned into electricity by wind turbines, and Norway had exported this electric power, most countries in Europe could free themselves from polluting gas- and coal-fired power plants from Eastern Europe.

The use of wind turbines in Europe is growing explosively. Germany, The Netherlands and Denmark are investing huge sums in wind power, even though their wind conditions are far worse than Norway’s. Large wind parks with hundreds of floating windmills are being built along the coast of Scotland and Ireland, far out in the ocean. This coastal strip is about as windswept as the Norwegian coast. These are the two places in Europe where the winds rage the most.

Norwegian wind for a cleaner Europe

“The wind far into the ocean is stable and strong, and there is no one around whose view will be marred by the towers and turbines. But it is a big challenge to get large wind turbines to float in the ocean and stay stable,” says Sætran.

He thinks that Norwegians have a technological advantage in the race to develop offshore wind because of the country’s experience with oil platforms.

“But it seems like Norwegian politicians and environmentalists have decided that windmills are a negative thing. This is a paradox as long as wind power could lead to a cleaner Europe. I would like to see the global perspective in the Norwegian debate,” Sætran says.

Not that expensive

He also objects to another argument used against windmills, which is that they cost too much.

“It’s said that there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics. This last kind is the lie that is used when people talk about how much it will cost to build and maintain offshore wind turbines. It is not as expensive as some people have said,” Sætran said.

 Norwegian version first published January 18th 2012.