Over 20% of the world's electricity comes from renewable sources, and while much of that is hydropower, wind and solar energy are taking big strides year after year. Over 6% of the planet's energy comes from wind, and just two decades ago, wind energy was virtually negligible. But wind energy takes up a lot of space. For onshore wind farms, several projects are looking at using agriculture and wind farms together and the two seem compatible, but what do you do with offshore wind?
Well... why not try the same thing? Of course, you can't exactly build a conventional farm offshore, but you could build a farm for something like seaweed. That seems to be the idea behind a new plan of Stockholm-headquartered renewable energy developer OX2.
The company, which is about to develop a 1.7-gigawatt offshore wind park off the western coast of Sweden, is discussing with two seaweed companies to explore the possibility of seaweed farming at one of its farms.
The farm will consist of 101 wind turbines and will generate enough power for over 1.2 million Swedish households -- Sweden has 4.8 million households. The project is expected to be complete by 2030.
Pairing seaweed and offshore wind farms seems like an inspired idea. Seaweed doesn't really need much to grow, just saltwater and sunlight, and seaweed is increasingly being regarded as a 'superfood' as it's rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Seaweed is healthy and demand for it is growing, so there's a market for it. In addition, seaweed can also be used as livestock food and has been shown to be beneficial to the environment as well.
“Seaweed can play a role in our food supply, for example as a dietary supplement or in meat substitutes”, says Reinier Nauta of Wageningen Marine Research, in an interview for the university. “It also contains high-value nutrients that can be useful in animal feed or as fertiliser.”
Several studies have also looked at the feasibility of the approach and ironically, the biggest obstacle to it seems to be an insurance premium that developers have to pay for the multi-use of farms -- but the idea seems viable and efficient. However, there are very real challenges to it.
“Seaweed is sown in the fall and harvested in the spring”, Nauta also said. “This means that the crop is out there in the storm season, when the sea is at its roughest. This is technically challenging: the currents put a lot of pressure on the system. It’s very vulnerable. There is certainly room for improvement.”
But while challenges are very real, the prospect of a holistic and efficient bioeconomy project that offers both clean energy and nutritious, eco-friendly food is definitely appealing. This isn't the first time something like this has been planned and hopefully, aquaculture can elevate offshore wind farms to the next level and make clean energy even more appealing.