Offshore wind in Asia – Low hanging fruits or expensive technical challenges? 

Dan Winkler, Amit Chatterjee, Noritaka Taka /

Currently, offshore wind development in Europe experiences a bit of a lull. Recent figures on development forecast a further decrease in new installations for the next years. With the traditionally strong nations on the European offshore wind market flagging, investors are looking for new opportunities. Several countries in Asia are pushing offshore wind development, making them an attractive option for investors worldwide.  

Because of its long coast-lines, China has great potential for offshore wind. After first offshore projects in 2010 and a rather slow development in the following years, China has picked up speed since 2017, leading to a total installed offshore capacity of 4.5 GW by the end of 2018. Political goals plan 10 GW until 2020, 60 GW in the long term. Developments in China, however, mostly go past international players. “The political strategy in China is to keep the projects as local as possible. This combined with a complete different setup in terms of financing, ownership and interfaces makes it very difficult for international players to break into the market”, says Niels Erdmann, managing director of Deutsche WindGuard Offshore, one of the leading international wind energy consultants. “The change to a tender system has further complicated things. Nevertheless  we have been supporting some very interesting projects in China over the last few years, which allowed us to gain  valuable market insights.” 

In comparison to China the set-up of national and international actors looks quite different in Taiwan. “With the current schedules and feed-in tariffs, Taiwan set an ambitious  framework which attracted international developers. These developers now bring external and international project experience to the table.”, says Sven Bicker, managing director at Deutsche WindGuard Offshore, who has been in charge of supporting several offshore wind projects in Taiwan considering technical project management, specifically load calculations and foundation design. Nowhere on the wind map five years ago, Taiwanese law-makers set the ambitious goal to reach 5,5 GW until 2025 and provided the feed-in structure to push development accordingly.  While the long coast-lines make offshore wind a logical choice, conditions are technically challenging. Sven Bicker explains: “In comparison with European North Sea conditions, the projects are facing strong current and wave environments as well as earthquakes and typhoons. This is a challenge not only for foundation and tower design, but also for the turbine site verification as well as installation and maintenance. It makes the projects technically more challenging as these risks for technical implementation have to be factored in, but it is possible."

In an comparably earlier stage than China and Taiwan, Korea is still worth to keep on the watchlist. With currently four projects with a total capacity of 43 MW in the demonstrator phase, the country’s goal is to reach 2 GW by 2020. Because of the fast increasing water depths, the focus is also heavily on floating wind – just as in the neighboring country, Japan.

“There is not much long term experience with floating wind yet”, says Sven Bicker, “Demonstrator projects have so far only shown the technical feasibility. If floating wind pays off or not remains to be seen.” However, a new extensive law to promote offshore wind in Japan has been passed in April, which shows the political will to push the market. “International support is explicitly promoted. We have been involved in first reviews. With 18 MW currently installed it may not be on the top of lists yet, but up and coming.

Last but not least, there is India. With a long history in onshore wind, there are currently no installed offshore turbines yet. After setting ambitious development goals (30 GW until 2030) at first, the government has yet to follow up with actions. After prequalification in 2018 tender documents for the first 1 GW wind farm were announced to be published at the end of 2018, but political proceedings were delayed, followed by the elections. Even if the tenders are finally published and development can begin, Niels Erdmann doubts that the timeline is realistic. “The conditions are challenging. Average wind speed is relatively low with 7 to 7.5 m/s but technical requirements are high, because of the cyclone risks. Without attractive feed-in conditions, it remains to be seen if investors will bite.”

Generally speaking, Asian countries are dipping their tows into offshore wind waters and are willing to learn from others. “As Asia was mainly not on the map of the oil and gas industry, there is no noteworthy offshore industries or companies with experience they could fall back on. That provides international offshore experienced companies like us with great opportunities”, explains Erdmann. “With our experience from consulting 75% of German offshore wind farms and first projects in India, China and Taiwan, we know what to expect and have developed experience for handling these specific boundary conditions. We can support the developers on the relevant interfaces.” But is Asia really the future for offshore wind? Erdmann remains skeptical: “Asian governments see the need to break away from fossil and nuclear energy. That is reflected in the ambitious development goals and first prerequisites. But with the challenging environmental conditions, the political framework will play an essential role in success or failure of offshore wind in Asia.”

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