Connecting offshore wind to the electricity grid will pose new technical and planning challenges according to Charlotte Guthleben from engineering consultancy Aurecon.
But Australia can benefit from decades of global experience in planning, building and connecting offshore renewable energy, she says.
Guthleben was speaking about the international experience of overcoming barriers to connecting offshore wind projects at the Climate Smart Engineering conference in Melbourne on 29 November.
There is “incredible interest” in offshore wind in Australia, she says, with six priority areas announced, and 60 individual projects already in development.
“Bringing any of them online is going to be a challenge with the current transmission pipeline,” she says.
Offshore wind energy projects will require new transmission infrastructure – cables and substations – connecting fixed or floating offshore wind turbines together, and connecting the power they generate with the onshore electricity grid.
“There are a couple of different factors which mean that these systems are harder to design and construct than onshore systems. And they’re also harder to maintain and upgrade once constructed,” Guthleben says.
There are technical, planning, design and maintenance challenges alongside environmental and social risks, which she says are different to onshore wind farms.
Guthleben says companies will tend respond to the higher costs and access challenges offshore by developing projects at a much larger scale, but more wind turbines require major transmission capacity.
In building and planning transmission infrastructure offshore, onshore and traversing the coast, it will be crucial to get the size and planning of connection right, she says.
This means greater coordination of infrastructure planning and delivery and shared assets – potentially enabling multiple projects – rather than incrementally planning and constructing multiple lines. This could help reduce fatigue and opposition to projects in coastal communities.
She says Australia should consider collective offshore assets, like offshore and onshore substations and connecting transmission.
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