Onshore & Offshore Wind Farms: What’s The Difference?
July 18, 2023
Wind energy is thriving globally and growing exponentially. In 2022, the global wind energy market was valued at US $77.77 billion. It’s projected to be worth $174.75 billion by 2030, with a registered CAGR of 9.4% from 2022 to 2030.1
At the core of this growth is a worldwide push for reduced reliance on fossil fuels for energy. Wind power provides clean, renewable and eco-friendly energy, paving the way to achieving lofty global environmental sustainability goals. Not only is wind an abundant and limitless resource, but it also provides electricity without burning fuel or polluting the air. As a major player in this global transition, wind turbine farms are being built at an expedited pace throughout the world.
There are 2 classifications of wind turbine farms: Onshore and Offshore.
Onshore Wind Farms (on land)
Land-based wind farms are driven by the natural movement of the air. They’re typically built in fields and rural areas since less-populated areas have fewer buildings and obstacles to interrupt the air. Onshore wind is one of the least expensive forms of renewable energy and is significantly less expensive than offshore wind power. Cheaper infrastructure and costs to run mean onshore farms can help lower electricity bills. However, onshore farms produce less energy (called their ‘capacity factor’) than offshore infrastructure because onshore planning often limits the turbines' ‘tip heights,’ the height from the base of the turbine to the tip of the turbine blade at the twelve o'clock position. Thus, onshore turbines are typically shorter than offshore turbines.
The process of turning wind energy into electricity goes like this: each turbine generates electricity, which runs to a substation, where it transfers to the grid, then powers our communities. An average onshore wind turbine with a capacity of 2.5–3 MW can produce more than 6 million kWh in a year – enough to supply 1,500 average EU households with electricity.2
Offshore Wind Farms (in water)
Offshore wind farms generate electricity from wind blowing across the ocean. They’re considered more efficient than onshore wind farms due to higher wind speeds, greater consistency, and lack of physical interference that the land farms contend with. Offshore wind farms typically have much taller turbines than those at onshore wind farms. Wind speed increases by 20% every 32 feet up. This difference can increase a wind turbine’s efficiency by 34%. The wind at sea is also stronger and less turbulent than on land, which means more power can be generated more reliably.
Oceans provide the perfect location to build wind farms in terms of scale and openness. However, offshore wind farms require more complex infrastructure to support them (floating or fixed farms) and, as a result, are more expensive to construct. Plus, higher wind speeds, strong seas and accessibility issues make offshore wind farms more challenging to maintain.
So how does wind energy get from the turbines to the grid? Electricity produced by offshore wind turbines travels back to land through a series of cable systems that are buried in the sea floor. This electricity is channeled through coastal load centers that prioritize where the electricity should go, then they distribute it into the electrical grid to power our homes, schools, and businesses. An average offshore wind turbine of 3.6 MW can power more than 3,312 average EU households.3
Worldwide Wind Workforce
To meet the demand for the exponential growth in wind energy, a larger workforce must be created, trained, and protected.
In 2021, the number of wind energy-related jobs worldwide reached 1.37 million, an increase of about 9% from 2020. 3.3 million new wind power jobs are expected to be created globally over the next five years thanks to major industry expansion.4 This includes direct jobs at both onshore and offshore wind farms.
According to AWEA, an estimated 85,000 Americans are currently employed in the wind power industry and related fields. Texas, Iowa, and California are the leading States in wind power generating capacity, but many other States—including Illinois, Indiana, Oregon, and Washington—are in the process of substantially increasing their wind-generating capacity.4
In Europe, Denmark, Germany, and the UK have historically led the switch to wind power and are still powerhouses in the industry.
According to data from the industry group WindEurope, Denmark took the top spot last year, with the highest contribution of wind power to energy consumption (55 percent). Ireland came in second (34 percent), the UK third (28 percent) and Germany fourth (26 percent).5
For the wind technicians who manufacture, install, operate and maintain wind turbines, serious work hazards are present every day. Workers need personal protective equipment (PPE) to safeguard them from falls, confined space risks, crushing injuries and more.
Wind turbine workers who climb the turbines or are otherwise exposed to potential falls require a certified personal fall arrest system (PFAS), such as a full-body safety harness. Honeywell Miller AirCore (US only) and Honeywell H700 (US/Europe) are excellent harnesses for the wind industry. They both offer ergonomic, lightweight designs that help reduce fatigue.
Head protection is also necessary in all stages of wind turbine manufacturing and construction. Honeywell’s Fibre Metal Safety Helmet offers superior impact absorption and secondary eye protection.
Protective eyewear is essential in every stage of wind energy. Common hazards include exposure to the elements, fog and falling objects, workers need the most effective and reliable eye protection available, such as Honeywell Avatar™ Eyewear.
Between manual handling, use of machinery and equipment, and hazardous chemicals, hand protection is critical in this industry. A best-selling glove is Honeywell Coreshield™ gloves. They come in 22 styles with thumb reinforcement, offering all cut resistance levels, from lowest (A/A1) to highest (F/A9).
Effective risk assessment and management is vital to protecting wind turbine workers. Help safeguard your team by choosing the appropriate PPE for every step in the manufacturing and maintenance of onshore and offshore wind farms.