An offshore windfarm is a collection of wind turbines. Each wind turbine is either fixed directly to the seabed or is attached to a floating foundation on the surface, which is then anchored in position. Wind forces cause the turbine blades to rotate creating large amounts of electricity which is then transferred to shore via a subsea cable. From there the electricity can be used, for example, to power homes, businesses, and transport around the country, or even exported abroad.
The Climate Action Plan 2023 includes a suite of actions to realise the potential of Ireland’s offshore renewable energy potential, following the Programme for Government commitments to achieve 5GW (more recently increased to 7GW) of installed offshore wind capacity by 2030 and to produce a long-term plan to take advantage of a potential of at least 30GW of floating wind thereafter.
Wind conditions offshore are much more favourable than on land with a stronger and more consistent wind resource. In addition, taller turbines can be used offshore allowing a single turbine to generate as much energy as three or even four onshore turbines. Floating offshore wind technology allows turbines to be located farther from shore, in waters too deep to make fixed bottom alternatives economically viable, further minimising visual impacts.
Floating offshore wind projects involve developing an array of offshore turbines supported on floating substructures that are moored and anchored to the seabed. The turbines generate electricity which is typically fed back to shore via an export cable.
Until recently there were a number of key challenges in Ireland for the development of offshore wind energy projects. These include: (i) lack of a clear consenting regime; (ii) no subsidy framework; and (iii) limited grid access. These challenges are now being dealt with the publication of the Marine Area Planning Act (MAPA), the publication of a Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS) and development activities undertaken by Eirgrid and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU). Furthermore, the cost of offshore wind is rapidly decreasing, while new opportunities to access deeper waters off our coast are being opened up with Floating Offshore Wind.
With the development of more offshore wind farms, additional investment in technology and the supply chain is allowing the cost of generating this energy to decrease rapidly. In the UK, offshore wind energy is now cheaper than nuclear, and nearly as cheap as gas powered generation. As the market grows in Ireland, it is expected that energy costs will fall significantly.
Floating wind turbines can be deployed in varying water depths due to the flexible design that can utilise a keel or spar arrangement depending on the water depths or sea condition requirements. There are currently several types of different floating turbine technologies (see below). The floating units are secured to the seabed via a mooring arrangement connected to several anchor points. The mooring and anchor system is designed to resist the wave loading that the structure experiences from the surrounding environment.
Comprehensive studies are undertaken during the design of offshore energy installations to understand historic and future weather patterns. Offshore wind farms are designed, constructed, and operated in consideration of extreme weather events and operational ranges of the devices.
Simply Blue Group, headquartered in Cork, Ireland, is a leading blue economy developer focused on replacing fossil fuels with clean ocean energy. It develops pioneering blue economy projects – floating offshore wind, e-Fuels, wave energy, and low-impact aquaculture – all in harmony with the oceans. The company has a pipeline of over 10GW of floating offshore wind projects across the globe. Simply Blue is committed to creating new economic opportunities for coastal communities, and developing projects that co-exist with sustainable fisheries and marine conservation.
EDF Renewables Ireland is part of one of the world’s largest electricity companies and our investment and innovation in renewable energy projects is reducing costs for consumers and bringing significant benefits to communities. EDF Renewables Ireland’s team has a wealth of experience in bringing complex development projects to fruition, across onshore and offshore wind, solar PV and battery storage technology, and is supported by more than 400 colleagues in the UK.
In 2020 we acquired 50% of Codling Wind Park, a major offshore wind farm which will be located off the coast of Co. Wicklow, with a dedicated team who have begun developing the project, and 100% of Wexford Solar, which includes eight solar projects across Ireland. In total we have an Irish onshore development pipeline of almost 1GW.
In the UK, EDF Renewables an operating portfolio of 36 wind farms and two battery storage units (together totalling almost 1GW). EDF Renewables operates in more than 20 countries around the world.
Western Star Floating Wind has a strong ethos of stakeholder engagement and initial discussions have identified several challenges for the offshore wind industry in Ireland including the intrusive visual impacts that may be experienced from nearshore sites. Listening to our stakeholders, we made the decision to focus on projects further from shore to minimise the visual impact. For sites far from shore in Ireland, floating wind technology is required due to the water depths encountered. Click here to view visualisations simulating how the Western Star FLOW site will look from shore.
Western Star is intended to be built in a phased manner up to a total capacity of up to 1.35GW, enough to power 67% of domestic electricity consumption in the country*.
Western Star Floating Wind commenced site investigations necessary to inform the detailed design of the project and to feed into the Environmental Impact Assessment and Appropriate Assessment process, with offshore bird and marine mammal surveys in late 2021.
Other survey work has largely been paused until licenses to carry out activities can be granted by the relevant authority (expected to be Maritime Area Regulatory Authority). From 2025-2027, these investigations will continue with further onshore and offshore environmental surveys, along with geophysical, geotechnical and metocean surveys to inform the engineering design.
Western Star Floating Wind propose to use a stepping-stone approach to the Western Star project development. For the FLOW site, this involves starting with a 300-450 MW development and then progressing to a further 700-900 MW development. The team at Western Star Floating Wind believe strongly in working with local stakeholders. The stepping-stone approach helps Western Star Floating Wind to work with the local supply chain and maximise the value to the local community.
A Foreshore Licence Application for Site Investigation Work has been submitted to the Department for Housing, Planning and Local Government under the Foreshore Act, 1933. This application was submitted on the 17th December 2020. The formal public consultation period for this application is yet to be determined by the Department on Housing Local Government and Heritage. The application documentation will be made available once it is agreed with the department.
A Foreshore Investigative License is the consent or permit required to undertake investigative/ survey work in the marine space. For the purpose of the foreshore consenting process, the law deems the marine space to be the area extending seawards from the mean high-water mark to the limit of the Territorial Sea (12 nautical miles from the coast). The license provides permission to undertake survey activities such as geotechnical and geophysical sampling, deployment of lidar devices, etc. The licence being applied for now allows Simply Blue Group to undertake the site investigations for the cable route from the windfarm back to shore.
The west coast of Ireland has the best wind resources in Europe and is one of the best globally. It is in Ireland’s interest to convert this comparative advantage to a competitive advantage. The west coast of Ireland is a competitive location to deploy floating wind. Firstly, the waves off the west coast are large but with deeper waters, these are manageable in the design of floating structures, moorings and cables. The order of magnitude challenge in design is essentially equal to that of the south coast of Ireland.
Secondly, the reliability of offshore wind turbine technology is improving year on year projects are being deployed in other areas and lessons are being learned. In addition, for required maintenance activities, technology is rapidly developing to enable safer and more efficient interventions. For example, unmanned vessels for cable monitoring, drones for blade inspections, helicopter access for personnel. Furthermore, technology is becoming available to enable offshore major maintenance, for example, crawling cranes to change blades.
The application for a Foreshore Investigative Licence references a range of surveys including geophysical, met ocean, environmental and archaeological. These surveys, and the equipment and techniques proposed, will be detailed within the Schedule of Works section of the application.
Additional future surveys will be required outside the 12nm limit covered by the Foreshore Act, in the area where the turbines are intended to be deployed. Among other things, these surveys will assess ground conditions and measure wind resources. This will require a separate licence application. Additional environmental surveys and monitoring will also take place to inform the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Appropriate Assessment.
Projects currently in construction plan to deploy turbines from 12-15MW, however considering the timeline for this project, it is likely that the turbines installed here will be in the 15-20MW range. These will have a rotor diameter of several hundred meters with 15MW turbines expected to be c. 275m in height. Approx. 90 machines at 15MW would be required to meet the up to 1.35GW capacity design for Western Star.
The FLOW site selected by Western Star Floating Wind off the Co. Clare coast has been deliberately chosen to minimise the visual impact. The nearest turbines proposed will be approximately 35 km from shore. Visualisations simulating how the Western Star FLOW site will look from shore have been produced, which can be downloaded here
The National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) which was published in early 2020 for consultation promotes inclusion and coexistence between multiple users of the marine space. Simply Blue Group adopt a similar ethos of coexistence.
Western Star Floating Wind recognise the importance of engaging as early as possible with the local fishing community to ensure ways are found to minimise the impact of offshore renewables on fishing. We are already working with local fishermen to explore this.
Seismic surveys are one of the type of surveys used to get a sense of the seabed and the layers of rock which underlie it. Seismic surveys, use air-guns to create a sound wave that gets reflected back off substrate rock layers. Unlike surveys carried out by oil or gas exploration companies, an offshore wind energy developer only needs to know the nature of the geology to a shallow depth. This allows them to carry out the surveys using smaller soundwaves.
The impacts of these seismic surveying techniques have been analysed and studies to date have shown that there is little significant impact on fish and shellfish. However, studies have been focussed on specific species (eg finfish, squid, scallops, lobster) and there is a need to improve knowledge across a broader range of species. As part of the license application for seismic surveys in the Western Star project, analysis will be carried out using best available information to inform on potential impact and mitigation for the same.
Seismic surveys, using air-guns to create a sound wave that gets reflected back off substrate rock layers, are employed as part of the suite of geophysical surveys. Unlike seismic surveys carried out by oil or gas exploration companies, an offshore wind energy developer only needs to know the nature of the seabed to a shallow depth. This allows them to carry out the surveys using smaller soundwaves.
Laboratory studies have shown limited effects on juvenile seabass as a result of exposure to seismic noise*. Other studies on the effects of seismic disturbance on the development of lobster larvae in Australia have shown no measurable negative effects with noises of up to 227 dB**.
*Radford, A. N., Lèbre, L., Lecaillon, G., Nedelec, S. L. & Simpson, S. D. (2016). Repeated exposure reduces the response to impulsive noise in European seabass. Global Change Biology, 22, 3349-3360.
**Day, R.D., McCauley, R.D., Fitzgibbon, Q.P. & Semmens, J.M. (2016). Seismic air gun exposure during early-stage embryonic development does not negatively affect spiny lobster (Jasus edwardsii) larvae. Scientific Reports, 6(1).
Western Star Floating Wind recognise the importance of engaging as early as possible with the local fishing community to ensure ways are found to minimise the impact of the wind on fishing. To help accommodate local fishers, the site can be designed and laid out in a way that reduces its impact.
Though the priority is to avoid any disruption to fishing activity, if there is clear evidence to show that the development has disrupted fishing activity – either temporarily or long-term – compensation would be paid.
As much as is possible, cables will be buried below the seabed which should reduce or eliminate the risk of snagging. However, there may be uneven parts of the seabed where cables cannot be buried, and this could create a risk of fishing gear becoming snagged.
Some parts of the cables may require additional protection measures such as mattressing or rock dumping which could represent an increased risk and every effort would be made to design these protections to make them trawl proof.
It is expected that future government auctions will derive similar community benefit as under the recent (May 2023) Offshore Renewable Electricity Support Scheme ORESS 1 – see ORESS 1 Community Benefit Funds Rulebook for Generators and Fund Administrators. This required €2 required to be paid for every MWh of electricity generated.
Electromagnetic fields (EMF) occur anywhere electricity is used and are also naturally produced by the earth’s magnetic field. For an offshore wind farm EMF is generated by the electricity passing through the subsea cables. EMFs from the electricity grid are non-ionising. This term means that they do not have enough energy to cause damage to human or fish cells in the same way ionising radiation does. Forty years of research has found no hazardous effects from long-term exposure to low levels of EMFs.
Some marine organisms use natural magnetic fields for navigation, while many elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays) use their sensitivity to electrical fields to help in the detection of food. This makes it important to investigate whether EMF from the cables used in wind farms has any effect on fish and to ensure the appropriate steps are taken to avoid or mitigate the impact of EMF on marine life.
Studies carried out on cables show that when they are buried to a depth of 1 metre the magnetic field at the seabed is actually less than the earth’s own natural magnetic field.* Wind farm developers will try to bury all cables up to two metres below the seabed wherever possible. Research carried out in Scotland found that while salmon, sea trout and eels can detect magnetic fields, since the field from the cables will be below that of the earth’s magnetic field it is unlikely they would even detect it.** Studies on electrical fields suggest that any impact on fishing is very localised and restricted to approximately 30 metres from the cable.***
* MORL (2012) Telford, Stevenson, MacColl Wind Farms and associated Transmission Infrastructure Environmental Statement, Technical Appendix 4.3 D – Electromagnetic Fields Modelling. Technical report produced by TNEI Services Ltd. For Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd.
** Gill and Bartlett (2010). Literature review on the potential effects of electromagnetic fields and subsea noise from marine renewable energy developments on Atlantic salmon, sea trout and European eel. Gill, A. and Bartlett, M 2010. Scottish Natural Heritage, Commissioned Report No. 401.
*** Collins, N. 2012. Assessment of Potential Ecosystem Effects from Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Associated with Subsea Power Cables and TISEC Devices in Minas Channel. Prepared by CEF Consultants Ltd. for Fundy Ocean Resource Centre for Energy (FORCE), Halifax, NS, 39p.
While construction and some maintenance activities are being carried out, it may be necessary to impose exclusion zones in some areas for health and safety purposes. This may restrict boat traffic in or around the wind farm and cable route zones.
Due to the catenary cable moorings used in floating offshore wind (FLOW) systems, fishing activities may be restricted during the operational phase of the project. Studies are currently being carried out at the Hywind Scotland FLOW site to investigate what gear types can be used within the wind farm area, in particular focusing on fish traps, potting and jigging. Benefits from the artificial reef effect in the area are also being investigated. *
* Equinor – Hywind Scotland Fisheries Co-Existence Pilot Presentation – ScotMer East Coast Offshore Wind Farm Developers Symposium, March 2020. https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/research-and-analysis/2020/03/marine-energy-research-symposium-2020/documents/fisheries-coexistence-pilot-at-hywind/fisheries-coexistence-pilot-at-hywind/govscot%3Adocument/Fisheries%2Bcoexistence%2Bpilot%2Bat%2BHywind.pdf
Fishing an area prior to a wind farm being developed does not provide any additional rights over the use of the area. The National Maritime Planning Framework (NMPF), currently being produced by the Government, encourages coexistence within the marine space.
The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage intend to set up a working group with representatives of both the offshore energy and fisheries industries, along with the government to discuss clear guidelines for interactions between the industries and opportunities for mutually beneficial co-existence between these marine sectors.
The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) and Western Star Floating Wind intend to use this platform to raise the issue of streamlining the licensing requirements to make it more feasible for fishing boats to be contracted for use in ORE projects as we see the use of fishing boats supporting the offshore wind industry as a potential benefit for both industries.
In addition, Simply Blue Group see education and upskilling within the fishing industry as the most beneficial route to enabling fishers to support the project from a survey/install/operate point of view. Simply Blue will promote this education and upskilling within the local communities to ensure, as much as possible, that benefits are reaped regionally.
As projects of this scale represent massive capital investment into local areas, there is considerable opportunity for local employment. Western Star Floating Wind will support local job creation at all stages, including by working with the fishing industry to explore opportunities for future employment and by actively encouraging local content in our supply chain.
There will be employment opportunities in each of the project phases. The long-term employment opportunities will come during the operations phase of the wind farm, which will require a team to service the turbines on a daily basis. These jobs will be long-term (up to 30 years), permanent and will be local. We anticipate that this project will have a transformative positive impact on local communities along the coast, creating jobs and boosting the supply chain.
A report carried out as part of the EirWind study found that in 2030, 2.5-4.5GW of domestic offshore wind development would support between 4,620 and 8,316 jobs in the domestic supply chain and generate between €325m and €585m in Gross Value Added (GVA)*.
As well as employment opportunities, it is expected that there will be a dividend type community support scheme under the Government’s Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS) to provide funding for local projects. The finer details of this scheme are a matter for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, however given the generating capacity of offshore windfarms when compared with onshore windfarms covering the same sized geographical area the funding could be substantial.
*S. Kandrot, V. Cummins, D. Jordan (2020). Socioeconomic Study. EirWind Project Deliverable D4.10 Report, MaREI Centre, ERI, University College Cork, Ireland. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3948015
Western Star Floating Wind believes strongly in working with local businesses and will actively encourage and prioritise local supply chains wherever possible. Our philosophy is to develop and nurture the local supply chain through phased “stepping-stone” developments, allowing local suppliers and communities to grow in tandem with the project stages. This stepping-stone approach will help to maximise the value to the local community.
Projects of this scale represent massive capital investment into local areas. A study in the UK found that a 500MW Celtic Sea FLOW site alone could generate 1,381 construction stage jobs and 33 O&M stage jobs in the Welsh and SW region and £630M in direct local investment during the construction phase with a further £8.8M annually for O&M*.
*ORE Catapult Report – Benefits of Floating Offshore Wind to Wales and the South West, Supply-chain report.
It is expected that there will be a dividend type community support scheme under the Government’s Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS) to provide funding for local projects. The finer details of this scheme are a matter for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, however, given the generating capacity of offshore windfarms when compared with onshore windfarms covering the same sized geographical area the funding could be substantial.
The offshore wind farm will interface with the shore in several areas: (i) an onshore landfall for the export cable and associated cabling back to an onshore substation and (ii) an operations and maintenance base to service the offshore wind farm. Both of these elements of the project will be subject to the onshore planning process and will be undertaken with a view to minimising onshore disruption, whilst also maximising the local supply chain opportunities.
Any activity in the marine space has the potential to impact on seabirds and other marine life. Offshore wind at scale is in its infancy in Irish waters however there is over 20 years of experience in other European countries to draw upon. The project will be designed to minimise the impact on wildlife and will follow international best practice established through years of post-development monitoring, observations and other research. The development will be subject to a full Environmental Impact Assessment and Appropriate Assessment as it progresses through the planning process and Western Star Floating Wind will implement any mitigation measures that have been proven to be effective where there is a real risk to the environment.
Studies suggest that offshore wind farms may act as artificial reefs and marine protected areas, increasing fish and shellfish abundance, and in turn prey availability*.
*Kingsley, A. & Whittam, B. (2005). Wind Turbines and Birds: A Background Review for Environmental Assessment. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Quebec.
Hunt, W. & Jessopp, M. (2019). Impacts from Offshore Wind Farms on Marine Mammals and Fish – A review of the current knowledge, EirWind Project Deliverable D4.13 Report, MaREI Centre, ERI, University College Cork, Ireland. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3948460
No, the project development will include a dedicated Archaeological Risk Assessment with studies undertaken to identify shipwrecks using geophysical survey techniques. Once a shipwreck database has been established for the site, Western Star Floating Wind will aim to avoid all areas of archaeological significance.