THE west Cornwall coast could become a pioneering venue for offshore energy if tests of a multimillion-pound prototype prove successful.
Wave Hub, ten miles off the Hayle coast, has been named as the preferred location for the design and trial of an offshore turbine, which will help determine whether floating wind farms could play a cost-effective role in helping to meet the UK's energy needs.
Those behind the scheme have already revealed that the turbine would be visible from the shore.
Johnny Gowdy, director at renewable energy specialists Regen SW, said the tests could put the area at the "vanguard" of a new industry.
"Floating wind turbines are something that had really come up quite fast," Mr Gowdy said.
"It is potentially a short-term solution to developing in deeper water offshore sites.
"For the South West, floating wind technology, with wave and tidal, is something we could specialise in because we have both a great wind resource as well as deeper water."
The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) – a public-private partnership between global industries and the Government – this week confirmed Wave Hub as the preferred location for a floating, 6MW turbine, which could be in place as early as 2015.
The ETI, which includes BP, EDF, Rolls-Royce and Shell, added that US-based naval architecture and marine engineering firm Glosten Associates would be designing the multimillion-pound floating wind demonstrator.
It will develop the platform prototype in partnership with offshore wind turbine manufacturers Alstom. The test turbine off the Penwith coast would remain in place for between eight and ten years.
Anne-Marie Rance, trustee and scientific adviser for campaign group Save Our Sands Hayle, believes this is positive news.
"We want the harbour to be a thriving area and bring jobs in and I think this will really help to kick-start that," she said.
"I don't think a turbine on the horizon will put off tourists, it will be intriguing and people will come to look at it.
"I believe climate change is happening and renewables are the way to go."
Preparatory work is already under way and a geophysical survey of the Wave Hub site has recently been completed.
The turbine would be anchored to the seabed using technology widely used in the oil and gas industry. The ETI is also funding a £4 million Front End Engineering Design Study (FEED) which will take about 12 months to complete.
During that time the Wave Hub team will need to apply for the consents to enable offshore wind to be deployed. The ETI will then decide whether to invest up to £21 million to deploy the prototype.