An oil company announced plans Thursday to build next year what it claims will be the world's first full-scale floating wind turbine.
State-controlled StatoilHydro ASA, based in the western port of Stavanger, is the key producer in the offshore oil industry that makes Norway a major petroleum exporter.
The company said the $80 million pilot project combines its offshore oil experience with advanced technology for wind power.
"We have drawn on our offshore expertise from the oil and gas industry to develop wind power offshore," said Alexandra Bech Gjoerv, head of StatoilHydro's new energy unit.
The 2.3 megawatt windmill will be placed about six miles off the coast of Karmoey, near Stavanger on the west coast. StatoilHydro said it has already signed contracts for the construction of the wind turbine and its floating base. The electricity will be sent to land through underwater cables.
Previous ocean windmill projects have been based on towers built onto the seabed near land, rather than floating structures. However, windmills on land or near the coast often draw complaints they spoil the view and disturb wildlife.
Bech Gjoerv said taking the windmills to sea means "wind is stronger and more consistent, areas are large and the challenges we are familiar with from onshore projects are fewer."
She said the windmill, with 260-foot blades, will be mounted on top of a giant spar buoy, a floating structure that is six meters in diameter and 100 meters deep. Spar buoys are often used for such things as offshore loading of oil from platforms to tankers.
"If we succeed, then we will have taken a major step in moving the wind power industry offshore" she said. "Floating wind turbines can make a major contribution to providing the world with clean power, but there are major technical and commercial challenges that need to be resolved."
Since the buoy is held in place by three anchors with chains, the system could be used in waters as deep as 2,300 feet, the company said in a news release.
StatoilHydro said a 10-foot tall model of the floating unit had already been tested in a wave tank at the Norwegian research institute SINTEF in the city of Trondheim.
The company said it plans to conduct a two-year test with the unit after it is goes on line in late 2009 in hopes of demonstrating that floating wind power is commercially viable.
"Floating wind power is not mature technology yet," said Bech Gjoerv. "An important aspect of the project is therefore research and development."