Will Windcatchers Revolutionize the Offshore Wind Energy Sector?

Tests scheduled for the fall will reveal whether arrays of mini turbines can effectively harness strong offshore winds.

A single Wind Catching unit produces enough electricity for 80,000 European households.
An illustration of the Windcatcher turbine concept. A single Wind Catching unit could produce enough electricity for 80,000 European households.

Wind Catching Systems

A Norwegian startup is developing Windcatchers, vertical arrays of mini-turbines that could potentially produce five times as much energy as standard offshore wind turbines.

Windcatchers will consist of dozens of 1 MW turbines assembled in a large sail that will float on the surface of the ocean. An image released by Wind Catching Systems (WCS) earlier this month suggests that future Windcatchers will be as tall as the 1,083-foot-high Eiffel tower and will include approximately 120 small turbines. 

WCS predicts the Windcatchers will have lower operating costs than typical offshore wind turbines and require less space, which could potentially minimize their impact on ocean life and seabirds. They will be tethered to the seabed using turret mooring, a system typically used by oil and gas rigs.

A single Wind Catching unit produces enough electricity for 80,000 European households.

Wind Catching Systems

“Our goal is for customers to be able to produce electricity that competes without subsidies with other energy sources. Simply put, we will deliver floating offshore wind with the costs of bottom-fixed solutions,” said Ole Heggheim, CEO of WCS. 

In other words, according to WCS, Windcatchers will be able to produce electricity at the same cost as offshore wind turbines that are fixed to the bottom of the ocean. If that’s the case, Windcatchers could revolutionize the offshore wind sector.

On top of that, WCS forecasts that Windcatchers will have a lifespan of 50 years, well above the 20-25 years that wind turbines typically last—no one knows for sure how long floating offshore turbines last because it is a new technology.

The startup expects that Windcatchers will be a viable technology for wind farms that would be built in the North Sea, the U.S. west coast, and in Asia in the coming decades.

Although floating offshore wind turbines have never been deployed on a large scale, countries including the U.S., France, Portugal, and Norway plan to build large floating offshore farms in the next few years.

Hywind Scotland, the world’s only floating wind farm, has been the best performing wind farm in the UK for three years running, a sign that floating wind farm technology has a future, in large part because floating farms are further offshore, where winds are typically stronger and more consistent. If companies can develop and scale up the technology to harness those strong winds, humans will be able to further reduce their reliance on fossil fuels for energy production.

But challenges remain, in large part because floating wind technology is expensive and has never been tested on a large scale—Hywind Scotland only has five turbines.

Whether investors will choose to install Windcatchers instead of traditional wind turbines will depend on how efficient they are. 

Disruptive Technology?

The Windcatcher is the brainchild of Asbjørn Nes, Arthur Kordt, and Ole Heggheim, the founders of WCS. 

In 2017, they set up to design a wind turbine specifically for off-shore floating farms. Their goal was to maximize power generation.

“It soon became clear that a multitude of small turbines gave a much better result per area than a big turbine,” their website says.

After developing the initial concept, WCS’s founders brought in Aibel, the engineering services company that designed the offshore structures of Hywind Scotland, as well as the Institute for Energy Technology, a leading energy research company.

These firms are now helping WCS further develop the Windcatcher.

Meanwhile, WCS has attracted investments from North Energy, a Norwegian oil company, and Ferd AS, an investment firm headquartered in Oslo.

In other words, WCS is being advised by companies with expertise in the wind farm and energy sectors and has secured capital to continue developing the Windcatcher.

WCS estimates that a Windcatcher will produce five times as much power as a conventional 15MW wind turbine—enough energy to power 80,000 European homes—but the company has not yet carried out the necessary tests to prove that claim.

WCS will test a scaled-down version of the Windcatcher in a wind tunnel in Milan, Italy, in the fall to see if the array can efficiently produce electricity. If the tests are successful, the technology could be available as soon as next year.