Everything about offshore wind just keeps getting bigger.
Last month alone, New York awarded America’s single-largest renewables procurement to offshore wind, and General Electric unveiled the world’s largest-ever turbine nacelle, also for offshore wind.
Offshore wind projects, meanwhile, are already exceeding the capacity (if not the capacity factor) of small nuclear reactors.
There are now half a dozen offshore wind farms larger than 400 megawatts in operation or under construction around the world, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. And the list doesn't include projects like the 659-megawatt Walney Extension in the U.K., since it was built in phases and GWEC counts each phase of an offshore wind plant as a separate project.
Here are the biggest offshore wind farms on the planet right now, as ranked by GWEC.
China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) obtained approval in 2017 to build what was then billed as China’s largest offshore wind farm in Yangjiang, Guangdong province.
The developer started installing 5.5-megawatt Ming Yang turbines at Nanpeng Island Offshore Wind Farm in June this year and is expecting to supply power to the grid in 2020, becoming fully operational by the end of that year.
The plant uses jacket foundations supplied by Third Harbour Engineering, a subsidiary of the China Communications Construction Company, and is part of a cooperation agreement that will see CGN building 3 gigawatts of capacity for the Jieyang municipal government.
Guangdong Power, a subsidiary of China’s State Power Investment Corporation, is at the forefront of a massive build-out effort that should see China overtaking the U.K. as the world’s leading offshore wind market by 2021.
State Power Investment Corporation’s Shenquan I plant in the South China Sea, with a total of seventy-three 5.5-megawatt turbines, is part of a project that will ultimately have 750 megawatts of capacity and sprawl across more than 46 square miles.
The Jieyang Development and Reform Bureau last year approved the application for Shenquan II, which will feature turbines of 5 megawatts or more from an unspecified vendor, according to an official notice.
The way GWEC cuts and dices the size of wind farms means it only attributes 455 megawatts to the initial phase of East Anglia One in the U.K.
But developer Iberdrola says the project will boast 714 megawatts when fully complete, making it the world’s biggest wind farm when it starts operating in 2020.
This month, Iberdrola sold a 40 percent stake in the project to Green Investment Group, part of renewables investment giant Macquarie, for £1.63 billion ($2 billion).
Proving that massive offshore wind farms are not just a recent phenomenon, the half-a-gigawatt Greater Gabbard plant off Suffolk in the U.K. started to be built in 2008 and was completed in 2012.
The project cost £1.6 billion (about $1.9 billion at today’s exchange rate) and features 140 Siemens turbines.
Scottish and Southern Energy, the utility that owns the project, had originally planned for a similar-sized extension called the Galloper Wind Farm but pulled out in 2014. A scaled-down Galloper subsequently went ahead with different backers.
Race Bank, commissioned in June 2018 in the North Sea off the coast of Norfolk, is the largest U.K. wind farm according to GWEC’s estimations.
The plant, featuring 91 Siemens Gamesa 6-megawatt turbines, is also served by the U.K.’s largest offshore wind operations and maintenance base.
And it was subject to the biggest-ever offshore wind refinancing deal at the end of last year, when Macquarie subsidiary Firebolt Holdings, which owns 50 percent of the project, secured £1.4 billion ($1.7 billion today). The balance of the project is owned by Danish developer Ørsted.
GWEC’s listing of the Dutch Gemini project as the biggest offshore wind farm in operation is perhaps controversial.
Using different metrics, others might argue that Gemini’s 600 megawatts are eclipsed by the London Array, which owners list as boasting 630 megawatts, or Walney Extension, with 659 megawatts if viewed as a single project.
Gemini, located 53 miles off the coast of Netherlands, opened in 2017 and according to majority owner Northland has been meeting the annual energy needs of 1.5 million people every year since.
What is not in doubt is that these massive projects represent the future of offshore wind, with similar developments underway around the world.
In Europe, for example, Iberdrola is hoping to follow up its East Anglia One project with two adjacent wind farms, the first with 800 megawatts of capacity and the second with 1.2 gigawatts.
And in China, massive wind farms will be the only way the country can achieve a whopping 84-gigawatt pipeline of installations.
Finally, there’s the U.S. market, which has had more than its share of ups and downs over the years. America’s installed capacity right now is almost negligible. Earlier this week, Vineyard Wind confirmed it would not be able to stick to the original construction schedule for its pioneering 800-megawatt project off Massachusetts after the federal government ordered another study.
Yet Vineyard's delay reflects the enormous demand for offshore wind along the East Coast that has materialized over the past few years. The 1.7 gigawatts awarded by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month show the measure of the market’s ambitions.
Watch out for a nuclear-reactor-sized wind farm off a shore near you.