Scotland is known for picturesque highlands and tartan-wearing highlanders, but now the country boasts the world's first floating wind farm. The large turbines are floating in the North Sea, 15 miles off the coast of the town of Petershead.
The farm consists of five enormous wind turbines that stand about 830 feet tall (256 feet of that bobs beneath the water's surface).
Dubbed the Hywind project, renewable energy advocates hope it can serve as a model for other regions that are capable of implementing the same technology.
So how does it work?
The enormous turbines were assembled in Norway by Norwegian oil company Statoil and ferried about a thousand miles south to Scotland. Statoil partnered with U.A.E. company Masdar to create the massive structures. Three huge suction anchors, which stand 52 feet tall and 16 feet in diameter, secure the turbine to the seabed. Some 111 tons of weight in each anchor ensure that the turbines stand upright.
Wind turbines have been constructed in water since the 1990s, but they can only be fastened to the ground in water depths of about 200 feet. The floating turbines in Scotland, however, are anchored at 255 feet, and they can be rigged at depths of over 2,600 feet.
Once upright and operating, cables then connect the turbines to the town's energy grid. According to Statoil, the turbines are capable of powering 20,000 homes.
"It floats, but it's quite stable when it stands up," said Elin Isaksen, a representative from Statoil.
She explained that the concept of a floating turbine was hatched by energy engineers in 2001. A single prototype was created in 2009, and by 2015, the Scottish government officially provided funding for Statoil to begin working on the five wind turbines now standing in the North Sea.
Each turbine is capable of pumping 6 megawatts of energy into the grid, meaning the project can contribute 30 megawatts in total. When not used, all this power is stored in lithium batteries, which have a capacity of more than two million iPhones.
Is this the future of wind energy?
Unlike wind turbines installed on land, floating turbines don't need to be specially tailored to the terrain on which they stand. This means they're capable of being mass produced, which lowers the cost of production.
The cost of production, however, is still high.
Installing the five turbines in Scotland cost 200 million British pounds—that's about 263 million U.S. dollars. To achieve this, Statoil relied heavily on grants from the Scottish government.
"Scotland has a support regime that made [the wind farm] possible," said Isaksen.
The U.K. has a Renewable Energy Directive that dictates 30 percent of the country's electricity must come from renewables by 2020. According to a report by the Scottish government, more than half that region's energy already comes from renewables.
Isaksen is careful to say that the five turbines in Scotland are a pilot project that the company hopes to learn from, to improve efficiency. Even larger turbines, capable of generating as many as 12 megawatts, are being designed, she said. The largest wind turbine in the world currently can only generate 9.5 megawatts of energy. Yet the size and efficiency has been increasing rapidly over the past few years.
Though they have no current plans for additional wind farms on the books, Isaksen said her company is looking at Japan, Hawaii, and California as the next possible homes for these renewable energy generators.