The Anonymous Widower

Are Floating Wind Farms The Future?

Boris Johnson obviously thinks so, as he said this about floating wind farms at the on-line Tory conference today.

We will invest £160m in ports and factories across the country, to manufacture the next generation of turbines.

And we will not only build fixed arrays in the sea; we will build windmills that float on the sea – enough to deliver one gigawatt of energy by 2030, 15 times floating windmills, fifteen times as much as the rest of the world put together.

Far out in the deepest waters we will harvest the gusts, and by upgrading infrastructure in such places as Teesside and Humber and Scotland and Wales we will increase an offshore wind capacity that is already the biggest in the world.

Just because Boris said it, there is a large amount of comment on the Internet, describing everything he said and floating wind turbines as utter crap.


The Wikipedia entry for floating wind turbines is particularly informative and gives details on their history, economics and deployment.

This is a paragraph from the Wikipedia entry.

Hywind Scotland has 5 floating turbines with a total capacity of 30 MW, and operated since 2017. Japan has 4 floating turbines with a combined 16 MW capacity.

Wikipedia also has an entry for Hywind Scotland, which starts with this sentence.

Hywind Scotland is the world’s first commercial wind farm using floating wind turbines, situated 29 kilometres (18 mi) off Peterhead, Scotland. The farm has five 6 MW Hywind floating turbines with a total capacity of 30 MW. It is operated by Hywind (Scotland) Limited, a joint venture of Equinor (75%) and Masdar (25%)

Wikipedia, also says this about the performance of Hywind Scotland.

In its first two years of operation the facility has averaged a capacity factor in excess of 50%.

That is good performance for a wind farm.


There is more about Hywind on this page of the Equinor web site, which is entitled How Hywind Works.

This is the opening paragraph.

Hywind is a floating wind turbine design based on a single floating cylindrical spar buoy moored by cables or chains to the sea bed. Its substructure is ballasted so that the entire construction floats upright. Hywind combines familiar technologies from the offshore and wind power industries into a new design.

I’ve also found this promotional video on the Equinor web site.

Note that Statoil; the Norwegian government’s state-owned oil company, was renamed Equinor in 2018.

Balaena Structures

In the early 1970s, I did a lot of work for a company called Time Sharing Ltd.

At one point, I ended up doing work for a company in Cambridge started by a couple of engineering professors at the University, which was called Balaena Structures.

They had designed a reusable oil platform, that was built horizontally and then floated out and turned vertically. They couldn’t work out how to do this and I built a mathematical model, which showed how it could be done.

This is said about how the Hywind turbines are fabricated.

Onshore assembly reduces time and risk of offshore operations. The substructures for Hywind Scotland were transported in a horizontal position to the onshore assembly site at Stord on the west coast of Norway. There, the giant spar-structures were filled with close to 8000 tonnes of seawater to make them stay upright. Finally, they were filled with around 5500 tonnes of solid ballast while pumping out approximately 5000 tonnes of seawater to maintain draft.

It sounds like Statoil and Equinor have followed the line of thinking, that I pursued with the Cambridge team.

My simulations of oil platforms, involved much larger structures and they had some other unique features, which I’m not going to put here, as someone might give me a nice sum for the information.

Sadly, in the end Balaena Structures failed.

I actually proposed using a Balaena as a wind power platform in Could a Balaena-Like Structure Be Used As a Wind Power Platform?, which I wrote in 2011.

I believe that their designs could have transformed the offshore oil industry and could have been used to control the Deepwater Horizon accident. I talked about this in The Balaena Lives, which again is from 2011.


It is my view, that floating wind farms are the future.

But then I’ve done the mathematics of these structures!

Did Boris’s advisors, as I doubt he knows the mathematics of oblique cylinders and how to solve simultaneous differential equations, do the mathematics or just read the brochures?

I will predict, that today’s structures will look primitive to some of those developed before 2030.

October 6, 2020 Posted by | Energy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Floating Wind Swells, Hydrogen On A High And Here Comes The 150-Hour ‘Aqueous Air’ Battery

The title of this post is the same as that of this weekly summary on Recharge.

There are three major stories.

Floating Wind Turbines

A lot more floating wind turbines are under development, by the French, Swedes, South Africans and Japanese.

I do wonder, if these structures have borrowed the work done in Cambridge by Balaena Structures, for which I did the calculations, as I wrote about in The Balaena Lives.

From what I remember of my calculations fifty years ago, I suspect these floating turbines can be massive and places, in areas, where the winds are really strong.

I also believe that some could have built-in hydrogen generators and could be placed over depleted gas fields and connected to the existing gas pipes.


The article describes how oil giants; BP and Shell are moving towards hydrogen.

Battery Storage

They also talk about Form Energy and their mysterious ‘aqueous air battery, which Recharge covered earlier. I discussed that article in The Mysterious 150-hour Battery That Can Guarantee Renewables Output During Extreme Weather.


This article is a must-read.

Recharge is also a site to follow, if you are interested in the developments in renewable energy.

May 18, 2020 Posted by | World | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland’s Floating Wind Farm

This article on the BBC is entitled World’s first floating wind farm emerges off coast of Scotland.

In the early 1970s, I worked on a unique concept for a reusable oil platform called a Balaena.

I wrote about using a Balaena for a wind turbine in Could a Balaena-Like Structure Be Used As a Wind Power Platform?.

There is also a brief description of the idea in The Balaena Lives.

I have a strong feeling that revisiting all of the work done for a Balaena over forty years ago, could enable a better way to build a floating wind farm.

I would build my Baleana-based floating wind-power turbine like this.

  • A steel cylinder is built, which will form the tower, horizontally in a dry dock.
  • It is floated out horizontally to some very deep water perhaps in a fjord.
  • It is then raised to a vertical position by letting a calculated amount of sea water into the tank.
  • It will float vertically, if the weight profile is right and by adjusting water levels in the tank, the top can be raised on lowered.
  • The tower is adjusted to a convenient height and the turbine is placed on the top.
  • It would then be towed vertically into position.

Note that Balaenas were designed to sit on the sea-bed using a skirt and a gum-boot principle to hold them to the bottom, with extra anchors and steel ropes.


July 24, 2017 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

Rolls-Royce Move Into Tidal Power

It is being reported that Rolls-Royce has moved into tidal power generation after the acquisition of Tidal Generation Ltd. There are some details here.

I know I keep bringing the Balaena up on this blog. But this surely is another place where the technology could be used. An appropriately sized column-like Balaena could be an ideal mount for the turbine.

August 30, 2011 Posted by | Business, News | , , , | Leave a comment

Could a Balaena-Like Structure Be Used As a Wind Power Platform?

Last night I was watching reports on the BBC about the Ormonde Offshore Wind Farm.

Again, I can’t help thinking that a Balaena like structure could be used. It would be tall and thin and the wind-turbine could just be lifted onto the top.

It would be built in a shipyard horizontally and would have a steel tank at the bottom to give it stability.  As with the original Balaena weight and the gum-boot syndrome would keep it in place.

It would also be towed out horizontally and then upended by filling the tank.  I proved that this would work nearly forty years ago and I’m sure if you get the sizes right, it would be very stable. You then just lift the power unit on the top in the normal way.

But then I’m no structural engineer.  On the other I have a memory like an elephant and never forget anything useful.

Where is Buckminster Fuller when you need him?

August 16, 2011 Posted by | News | , , , | 3 Comments

The Balaena Lives

Not quite, but there is a lot of Balaena thinking behind Shell’s new FLNG.

So what was the design I worked upon in Cambridge for Balaena Structures all those years ago like?

The problem with offshore oil platforms is that they are very expensive and once they’ve extracted all the oil from the oilfield on which they sit, they are very difficult to take down.

In the mid-1970s, some very clever structural engineers from Cambridge University came up with a design for a reuseable platform, that could be built in a ship yard, that would normally build supertankers.

The design was simply a steel cylinder, perhaps about a hundred metres long and thirty or so in diameter.  I can’t be sure of the size as it is nearly forty years ago and I have kept no records. The idea was that it would be built horizontally and then towed into position, where it would be turned through ninety degrees to sit on the ocean floor above the oilfield.

So the eventual bottom end was closed off and would have had a skirt that sat in the ocean floor and held the platform in position by a sort of gum boot principle. The other end was also closed and supported a square working deck about twenty metres high on a stem about the same length.

My part was to do the calculations on the upending, which would have been accomplished by letting sea water into the enormous tank under control.

The calculations were not that simple, but because of my dynamic simulation experience, they were well within my compass and I was able to do them on a simple time-shared computer.

I did prove that because of the vast weight of steel and the not inconsiderable weight of sea water, that the Balaena would install itself as designed. Sadly it was one of those projects that after a considerable amount of effort never came to fruition.

Some other points about the design should be noted.

  1. The tank could be used to store the oil extracted and this could then be pumped to a waiting tanker.
  2. When it needed to be moved, the tank would be emptied and at the appropriate point, the Balaena would float vertically. It could then be towed still upright to a new position.

All of this might seem rather fanciful, but I suspect that some of the ideas in the Balaena have been used successfully in the other designs.

I started talking about the Balaena, when the Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time I was lying on a bed after a serious stroke in Hong Kong. I imagined an empty Balaena ready and waiting floating horizontally in the sea within a few hundred miles of the clusters of oil platforms.  It would differ from the 1970s platform design, in that the working deck would be much simpler and probably only there to control the pumping.  It would also not have a complete bottom to allow the oil to enter the tank.

Could it have been towed to the site and upended over the leaking well, as a crude but effective cap? The oil would still float to the surface, but inside the tank of the Balaena, from where it could be pumped out.

The idea may still be fanciful, but I can guarantee that the structure would upend as required, just by adding sea water to the tank. I did the calculations to prove it in the early 1970s.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | News, World | , , , | 6 Comments

Is This Platform the Future for Offshore Oil and Gas?

As Deepwater Horizon and Piper Alpha have shown, trying to get offshore oil and gas wells working properly can be a hazardous business.

I was converted to the idea and the economics of reuseable platforms many years ago, when I did the calculations for Balaena Structures in Cambridge.

A few days ago I was watching BBC Breakfast, when they had an item about F3-FA, which is a reuseable gas platform.  It may have cost £200million, but it is intended to drain up to four or five smaller gas fields during ts working life.

The article says this about the costs of the design.

“Most platforms are permanently installed on the seabed, they are used for a number of years, after which they are decommissioned and brought back onshore,” he says.

“This platform is self-installing, which means it comes out on a barge, you put the legs down to the sea bed, you exploit the oil and gas out of the field and when the field is finished you do it in reverse and take it to the next field.

 Just seven or eight people are needed to run the 9,000-tonnes facility

“And you do that three or four times, thus reducing the cost.”

Note that statement about the platform needing a small crew.  It must surely have safety and accommodation implications as well as cost.

Incidentally, it is very different to the Balaena I worked on.  One day, I’ll put the details of that on this blog.

November 2, 2010 Posted by | Business, News | , , , , | 1 Comment

BP’s Gulf Crisis

I’ve done a lot of interesting things in a long working life. One that might help BP is a type of reusable oil rig/platform, for which I did the calculations in about 1972. It was called a Balaena and the company was called Balaena Structures. It was based in Cambridge. I wonder what happened to the idea.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | Design, News, World | , , | 3 Comments