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Sound solutions for offshore power plants

Building wind turbines that withstand salty storms at sea is relatively straightforward – but doing it on a large scale while keeping costs in check is a far less simple proposition. Together, Norwegian researchers and engineers are working out the best possible solutions.

The Research Council of Norway’s Large-scale Programme on Clean Energy for the Future (RENERGI) currently provides funding to 13 projects aimed at making offshore wind power commercially available.

Photo: Stein Morch John Olav Tande, Director of NOWITECH, sees a future with remotely controlled offshore wind farms. (Photo: Stein Morch) Adapting offshore know-how

The research is centred on how to capitalise on hard-earned Norwegian expertise from four decades of offshore petroleum activities in harsh marine environments. The ultimate objective is to achieve cost-effective serial production of tens of thousands of wind turbines that can operate as maintenance-free as possible, far off the coast in open seas.

The projects receiving Research Council funding focus on installation, operation and maintenance, grid connectivity, and foundations.

The following articles describe some of the projects now in their concluding phase:

Maintenance and installation

Many technological challenges still need to be overcome for offshore wind power to compete pricewise with other sources of new power production.

Maintenance is a central theme in most of the 13 research projects allocated funding under the RENERGI programme. Wind farms need to be operated via “remote presence”, which is an area where the petroleum industry has made great advances, developing remotely controlled platforms and subsea installations that are nearly maintenance-free.

“The wind power facilities will need to be virtually maintenance-free, too,” explains John Olav Tande. “That in itself is very demanding given the tremendous forces acting on the equipment and the harsh, salty operating environment.” Dr Tande, Senior Scientist at SINTEF Energy Research in Trondheim, is also Director of the Research Centre for Offshore Wind Technology (NOWITECH).

Photo: Shutterstock The ultimate objective of the Norwegian research is to achieve cost-effective serial production of tens of thousands of wind turbines that can operate as maintenance-free as possible, far off the coast in open seas. (Photo: Shutterstock)

“It would be far too pricey to construct absolutely maintenance-free wind turbines. But we have to develop methods of avoiding minor faults that cause shutdowns at the wind farm, which then have to be repaired by technicians brought out from the mainland. All that entails high costs.”

Installation is another key research area in the Norwegian projects. Rough seas and inclement weather often pose problems when towing the wind turbine equipment out to the operating site and installing or anchoring it on the seabed – so equipment and methods that widen the window of opportunity for installation have to be developed.

Environmental considerations

How can wind farm developers avoid interfering with the primary migratory routes of birds? This is a highly publicised, controversial issue among nature protection advocates. Avoiding the destruction of coral deposits and other valuable life on the seabed is another consideration.

Nonetheless, bottom-fixed wind power structures in particular can also have a positive impact on marine life.

“Offshore constructions often function as an artificial reef, allowing an abundance of species to proliferate where once it was barren and desolate.” “And wind farms may actually function as protective nature reserves since they inhibit trawling, for example. But much more research is needed on these factors,” concludes Dr Tande.

Written by:
Atle Abelsen/Else Lie. Translation: Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann
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