Floating powerplants hurricane resistant??

Summary Assessment of the Status of Floating Powerplants

Table of Contents

Can the SXM government substantiate their claim that powerbarges are resistant to hurricanes up to Category 4? Our research found no evidence to support this assertion.

This article is based on research of CE delft, download the report here


Floating powerplants, which include ships or barges equipped to generate electricity, have seen increased deployment over the past few decades. They are particularly used in coastal areas where on-land power generation is inadequate. These powerplants primarily run on fossil fuels, contributing to air, water, and noise pollution, which impacts local environments and climate.

Types of Floating Powerplants:

  1. Self-Propelled Powerships: Converted bulk carriers with installed powerplants.
  2. Non-Propelled Powerbarges: Purpose-built floating structures hosting powerplants.

The report identifies:

  • 24 powerships
  • 69 powerbarges
  • 2 nuclear floating powerplants (mostly barges)

Capacities typically range from 30 MWe to 500 MWe, with powerships generally having a higher median capacity (125 MWe) compared to powerbarges (70 MWe).

Fuel and Environmental Impact:

Most floating powerplants use fossil fuels, though there’s a shift towards dual-fuel generators and LNG. The overall capacity of fossil-fueled floating powerplants is about 10 GW, roughly 0.1% of global electricity capacity. These plants generate emissions similar to land-based fossil fuel plants but pose risks of locking in fossil fuel dependency, potentially displacing renewable energy alternatives.

Deployment Scenarios:

Floating powerplants are used in various scenarios:

  1. Long-term Deployment: Often in developing countries lacking sufficient on-land power generation.
  2. Temporary Replacement: When land-based plants are under construction or out of order.
  3. Emergency Situations: Providing power post-natural disasters or other emergencies.
  4. Shore Power Supply: Supplying electricity to docked ships, reducing emissions from ship generators.

Geographical Deployment:

Most powerships are deployed in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. The market is expanding, with significant order books suggesting a 50% increase in global capacity in the near future.

Environmental and Health Risks:

  • GHG Emissions: Comparable to land-based plants if using modern equipment and LNG.
  • Air Pollutants: Emissions of NOx, SOx, VOCs, and particulate matter.
  • Noise Pollution: Both ambient and underwater noise, impacting human health and marine life.
  • Water Discharges: Thermal pollution from cooling water, potential oil discharges treated with separators.

Risk Assessment:

The report includes a checklist to evaluate environmental and human health risks associated with floating powerplants, considering emissions, fuel type, cooling systems, noise, and potential accidents. Additionally, a secondary checklist highlights warning signs that necessitate mitigating actions.

Hurricane Resilience:

There have been claims by the government of Sint Maarten that powerbarges are resilient up to Category 4 hurricanes. However, according to the detailed assessment presented in this report, there is no evidence to support such claims. The resilience of powerbarges to hurricanes depends on their design, construction, mooring systems, and preparatory measures. While powerbarges can be engineered to withstand severe weather conditions, specific details regarding their resistance to high-category hurricanes like Category 4 (wind speeds of 130-156 mph or 209-251 km/h) are not substantiated in this report.

Powerbarges, like any floating structure, can be vulnerable to severe weather conditions such as hurricanes. Their ability to withstand such extreme weather depends on several factors:

  1. Design and Construction: Powerbarges must be designed and constructed to handle extreme weather conditions. This includes robust structural integrity, watertight compartments, and reinforced anchoring systems.
  2. Mooring and Anchoring: Proper mooring and anchoring systems are crucial for powerbarges to withstand strong winds and waves. They must be securely anchored to prevent them from breaking free during a hurricane.
  3. Location and Positioning: The location where the powerbarge is deployed can significantly impact its ability to withstand hurricanes. Sheltered locations or areas with natural barriers can provide additional protection against severe weather.
  4. Weather Forecasting and Preparation: Advance weather forecasting and timely preparation can help mitigate the impact of hurricanes. This includes moving the powerbarge to a safer location if possible and ensuring all systems are secured.
  5. Regulatory Compliance: Compliance with international maritime safety regulations, such as those outlined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), ensures that powerbarges meet minimum safety standards for operation in severe weather conditions.

(Ask yourself, you think SXM is capable of handling these conditions? )

In general, while powerbarges can be designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, their actual resilience to hurricanes will depend on the specific design, construction, and operational protocols in place. Proper planning, robust design, and adherence to safety regulations are essential to minimize the risks associated with hurricanes.


The deployment of floating powerplants must be carefully assessed against local alternatives to ensure minimal environmental and health impacts. The report emphasizes adherence to international standards and local regulations to mitigate risks associated with floating powerplants. Recommendations include adopting best practices for emission control, noise reduction, and safe fuel handling to ensure sustainable operations. Additionally, the government of Sint Maarten should provide clear, evidence-based information regarding the hurricane resilience of powerbarges to avoid misleading the public.