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Floating It

Current offshore wind turbines are secured to the seafloor; in the future, the turbines may be held in place by an anchor.

Ulrich Baumgarten/Getty Images

Wind-power collaborative WindPlus is also working on the anchoring issue. In this case, though, the turbine keeps its horizontal axis, like you see on most land-based structures; the big development here is a support system called WindFloat.

WindFloat is a semi-submersible platform held in place by a drag-embedment anchor. In drag embedment, there's no construction at the seafloor. Instead, an anchor is dragged along the floor until it embeds itself at the desired depth. The drag-anchored platform supports an offshore turbine like the ones commonly in use now. WindFloat can potentially allow the affordable installation of larger turbines than those producing offshore power now.

This floating-turbine design allows not only for lower installation costs but also lower assembly costs, since the entire setup, both platform and turbine, can be assembled on land. Current technology relies on assembly at sea, which involves far more unstable and logistically complex conditions [source: Macguire]. WindFloats are already in use off the coast of Portugal, and, as of December 2012, plans for installation off the coast of Oregon are moving forward [source: Recharge].

That Oregon project has been green-lighted in part by new development grants from both the European Union and the United States [source: Recharge]. New government funding for wind power, particularly the offshore variety, issued at the end of 2012 could mean big leaps in development. Hopes are that with the money to perfect design and implement more real-world testing, innovations like these could dramatically increase the viability of wind as a significant source of affordable, clean energy.

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