Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Designing safer offshore wind practices

Transferring people and equipment on and off wind turbines perched in the ocean or Great Lakes is no easy matter - even under calm conditions. When the waves are rolling, the task is especially daunting. Offshore oil and gas operations rely primarily on helicopters to do this, but that 's prohibitively expensive when you're dealing with hundreds of turbines.

The Carbon Trust is sponsoring a design competition to address this important issue. (GW)

Competition launched to improve access to offshore turbines

New Energy Focus
29 September 2010

Competition launched to improve access to offshore turbines

The Carbon Trust has launched a competition to find solutions to the problem of safely transferring engineers and equipment from vessels to offshore wind turbines as they get further offshore.

The Carbon Trust has today (September 29) launched a global competition to find solutions to the ‘problem' of transferring engineers and equipment safely from boats to offshore wind turbines.

The project aims to improve the economics of offshore wind by boosting revenues by up to £3 billion at a "crucial time" for the next generation of Round 3 offshore wind farms.

According to the Trust, the need for better access is driven by the location of the next generation of wind farms to be built over the decade - with projects set to be located as far out as 300km offshore.

Currently, wind farms are typically less than 20km from shore in relatively benign sea conditions, claims the Carbon Trust, however, it explains that the next generation of projects will have to operate in harsh conditions, making operation and maintenance challenging.

The competition aims to identify and develop the necessary technologies for access of far-offshore wind turbines, focusing on:
  • Transfer systems - to transfer personnel and equipment from vessel to turbine, potentially with motion-compensation;
  • Vessels - vessels for transporting personnel and equipment from permanent bases or mother-vessels to turbines, incorporating a transfer system;
  • Launch and recovery systems - systems fitted to the permanent bases or mother-vessels for launching and recovering daughter-vessels from the sea.
Commenting on the importance of the competition, energy minister Charles Hendry, said: "As developers seek to get wind turbines into deeper waters, where the wind blows more wildly and the waves are stronger, it is vital that access and safety are maximised and costs minimised.

"This competition will help turn ideas into reality, and successful innovators will see their solutions power the next phase in the UK's offshore wind expansion."

The Carbon Trust claims that the problem they need to address is getting safer and more reliable transfers for maintenance staff who step off boats onto ladders on the side of turbines.

While this works effectively and safely in calm seas, conditions in future wind farms may be so rough that transfers may only be possible 160 days a year, according to the Trust.

The government-funded body claims that if safer, more reliable transfers were possible, it would increase the window for performing maintenance activities, which would increase the operating hours of the turbines and improve the overall economics of the wind farm.

The competition aims to generate at least a 4% increase in turbine availability through the development of new technologies for the most challenging sea conditions. This, in turn, could increase the power generated, which would mean saving £3 billion of lost revenue, says the Trust.

Benj Sykes, director of innovations at the Carbon Trust, commented, "To ensure we achieve the scale of offshore wind needed to meet the UK's renewable target and reduce dependency on fossil fuels, we must focus on improving the economics of offshore wind, by reducing costs and increasing revenues.

"This competition will find innovative technology solutions which will help us get as much power as possible from next generation offshore wind farms."

The competition is part of the Carbon Trust's Offshore Wind Accelerator, an industry collaboration with eight energy companies - including DONG Energy, E.ON, Mainstream Renewable Power, RWE Innogy, ScottishPower Renewables, SSE Renewables, Statkraft and Statoil -which aims to drive down the costs of energy from offshore wind by 10% (see this story).

The successful applicants to the competition will receive up to £100,000 of funding per concept to support its design and development.

The competition is supported by RenewableUK, the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST), the Royal Institute of Naval Architects (RINA), Society of Maritime Industries (SMI) and the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

Companies can submit their designs to the Carbon Trust until November 26.


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