Offshore wind farms can offer a number of advantages over onshore installations - they generally encounter less public resistance, while also providing access to excellent wind conditions, thereby promising higher yields. However, developing at sea multiplies the technical challenges and hazards, making projects more costly and therefore discouraging investors. This was particularly a problem in Germany, where a ban on shallow water construction had forced planners to explore even more problematic, deep-water sites.
In order to reduce the risks associated with offshore wind farms and to accelerate their development, the FINO3 research platform was established off the coast of Germany, in the North Sea. The results from the platform would clarify uncertainties regarding the technical design of turbines suitable for offshore use.
The FINO3 platform is one of three research platforms (two in the North Sea and one in the Baltic) that were commissioned and built by the Federal Government of Germany, on sites in the immediate vicinity of major offshore windfarms. The operation of the FINO3 platform has received public grant partial funding for demonstration and commercial exploitation from the Schleswig-Holstein Region’s Ministry of Economic Affairs (with regional and European Union funds), European Regional Development Funds (ERDF), and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).
The platform has been operated by the Kiel University of Applied Sciences GmbH R&D Centre since 2009. The R&D Centre has overseen a number of research projects, investigating several parameters with relevance for turbine construction, performance and grid connectivity. Data about wave behaviour, lightning strikes, bird migration, soil structure and wind strength are among those that have been collected. These results have been useful to turbine manufacturers, helping to fill gaps in existing knowledge regarding offshore conditions, and thereby providing support to the innovation competences of firms.
The investment in FINO3 is beginning to reap large dividends – for the year 2015, Germany was the world leader in new offshore wind capacity, adding three times more than any other EU country.
FINO3 has shown how dedicated R&D can help regions to create new economic opportunities. By providing support to the research platform, Schleswig-Holstein has helped break down a number of technical barriers, thereby stimulating investment in the region. The involvement of Kiel University of Applied Sciences GmbH, an R&D Centre that specialises in the commercialisation of a technology, helped foster links with private sector companies. By setting up a public-private partnership manufacturers could be directly involved in research projects, speeding up the process of commercialisation.
Funding from regional, national and EU sources was vital for the success of the policy, showing that widespread political consensus and will is needed for the realisation of such ambitious projects.
Providing support to R&D in the public sector and industry, and preparing regional infrastructure can be effective tools to encourage investment in a range of renewable sectors, not just offshore wind. However, policies will vary between territories, depending on local resources and requirements. Other countries with offshore aspirations may be able to replicate the practice, although FINO3, which involved a complex web of public, private and research partners, is not easily replicable. The practice is an estimated 6 on the GML scale.