Cleveland, OH— PMI Project Engineer and Marine Energy Specialist Tyler Burger shares his thoughts on the future of cable maintenance and repair in offshore wind farms with Windpower Engineering and Development in the article “The future of cable maintenance and repair in offshore wind farms.”
Converting the immense power of our oceans into reliable electricity to light our cities, fuel our travels, and make our homes habitable is one of the great engineering challenges of our time.
A beguiling array of wave-energy devices, tidal turbines, and coastal-barrage proposals are in the works to meet this challenge, but the prospect of them competing with wind and solar power is a distant one indeed. That’s because the realities of designing, building, and deploying these devices are incredibly complex.
Tidal and wave equipment falls into these categories:
- Power-conversion devices that use blades, turbines, and other hardware to capture the kinetic energy of moving seawater and flowing rivers and convert it to a stream of usable electricity.
- Cables to transmit power from the devices to the mainland and sometimes are also required to hold these devices in place.
- Cable accessories to connect cable arrays and devices to efficiently transmit the generated power and extend their capabilities.
- Moorings that anchor devices to the sea floor via cables, ropes, or chains.
All this equipment must work together, and failure of any one component can bring the whole system down.
These are the five main equipment complications confronting tidal and wave engineers:
1. Expense of early-stage development
Ocean-energy device costs remain extremely high because there are no benefits of manufacturing at scale. Each device has to be painstakingly designed, constructed, and tested in laboratories, then turned into prototypes to be tested in actual ocean waters.
The long process of trial and error requires funding to survive. Right now, a lot of funding is coming from governments because private companies don’t see much chance of getting a strong return on their investment.
2. Abundance of unproven prototypes
There are at least a dozen or more promising devices for capturing the motion of waves and the rise and fall of tides. With wave energy, devices can move up, down, and side-to-side, generating motion that can be converted into electricity.
But because the motion of waves is affected by surface winds, weather, and local topography, wave action is highly idiosyncratic and difficult to capture reliably. Furthermore, an ocean-energy device that works great in one locale might be terrible in another, making it difficult to develop a standard design.
An example of proposed wave energy devices includes:
- Floats or buoys that move up and down with the waves’ motions. This movement is converted to kinetic energy that powers an electrical generator. (Wired magazine profiles an intriguing buoy design from a Swedish company.)
Tidal power examples:
- One project uses devices that look like wind turbines, except they’re mounted underwater.
- Another project uses a gigantic metal water wheel with blades that spin from the motion of advancing and retreating tides.
Each of these proposed ocean-energy devices is intriguing in its own right, but there’s still a sharp contrast with offshore wind, where there’s a strong consensus on the most viable technology and a track record of which devices work best.
3. Environmental disruption
Any large mechanical device placed into an active ocean ecosystem is going to be problematic. Spinning blades may injure or kill aquatic species. A coastal barrage for tidal energy might upset an entire estuarial ecosystem.
Mechanical devices also can leak lubricants and emit noises that make trouble for fish and aquatic mammals. Engineers can tweak their designs in an attempt to minimize environmental damage, but they really can’t be sure what will happen until they get their prototypes in the water, so it’s difficult to solve these problems on the drawing board before they become much more expensive.
4. Unpredictable weather
Though waves splash endlessly against the coastline, their frequency and amplitude shifts constantly because wind has so much influence on water at the surface. Rough conditions are often a good thing for these devices because it means more motion, thus more energy created. But electricity users require a regular, reliable energy stream — not one that changes every time a low-pressure system moves in. This is why battery storage is being considered in some cases.
Hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, and other calamities pose a realistic risk of destroying equipment in an instant, while day-to-day crashing of the seas wears equipment out over months and years. Either way, engineers have to build incredibly robust machinery to survive the whims of weather because these devices are going in high-energy locations that have previously been avoided by subsea cable and construction projects. Even wind power installations still face some of these same demanding issues, as they are not unique to tidal energy.
5. Corrosion and bio-fouling
Devices strong enough to convert waves into energy typically require the strength of metal alloys. The trouble is that saltwater is so corrosive to tough, economical alloys like steel. That requires an extra level of care at the design, construction, and installation phases to fend off the effects of corrosion. Admittedly, there are many metallic alloys that have amazing corrosion resistance, but building entire energy arrays out of these metals will be inherently costly.
And then there are the creatures that attach themselves to anything we put in the ocean. Small animals and plant life can attach to the moving parts of underwater devices, creating potential for costly breakdowns and maintenance.
New technology and development is on the horizon
The challenges of ocean energy equipment are no reason to give up and move on. This is especially true in light of news that a commercial-scale tidal-energy project in Scotland got the green light for development in June 2017.
Obviously, offshore wind will be the most productive marine-energy source for the foreseeable future, but as long as the oceans keep moving, engineers, researchers, inventors, and entrepreneurs will be scouting for ways to bring tidal and wave energy into the mainstream.
One thing’s for sure: The ocean-energy industry will need tough, long-lasting cable accessories to solve the attachment, transmission, and cable repair part of this puzzle. PMI is your premier resource for those cable accessories.
- Pros and Cons of Tidal Energy
- Hurdles in Establishing Practical & Reliable Wave Energy
- Six Obstacles to the Development and Commercialization of Marine Energy Devices
There’s nothing quick about developing an offshore wind farm. It takes years of site selection, political and financial wrangling, environmental reviews, and careful construction to make it all happen. But those timelines could be getting shorter thanks to developments in the European offshore wind market.
An article in IEEE Spectrum in June 2017 noted a major breakthrough: Three new German projects are expected to be built without government subsidies — a first in the history of European offshore wind. Indeed, the scope and scale of North Sea wind farms is growing so fast and costs are falling so quickly that subsidy-free projects are happening much sooner than anybody anticipated.
“We’re three to four years ahead of schedule,” Bent Christensen, who is responsible for energy-cost projections for Siemens’ wind power division, said in the IEEE Spectrum report.
Admittedly, there’s a speculative component to the prediction of subsidy-free offshore wind power: It requires turbines that generate 13 to 15 MW, which aren’t on today’s market (the biggest turbines generate about 8 MW). IEEE Spectrum says those turbines may be seven or eight years in the future.
Reviewing the key phases of the offshore wind timeline
With subsidy-free power in the picture within a decade, developers, regulators, and manufacturers will be looking for ways to shrink the offshore wind timeline in each of its four key phases. Here’s a quick review of those phases:
- Establishing offshore wind regions: This is where government regulators identify sites that hold the most promise for offshore wind production. Studies measure the areas with most reliable wind resources and least environmental impacts. In Europe, France is seen as one of the next great offshore locales thanks to its shorelines in the North Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea.
- Offering leases and requesting bids: Next, developers get an opportunity to lease specific sections for wind farm development. Here, utilities and regulators coordinating the arrival of the power on the mainland request bids from wind farm developers. Before preparing their bids, the developers conduct wind tests, dig bore holes and survey the sea floor to find optimum areas for development.
- Developing wind farm sites: The company with the winning bid starts developing the site in more detail. It’s time to identify precisely where the individual wind turbines will be installed and figure out which vendors will supply them. Here, cumulative advances in technologies and techniques learned at existing sites pay dividends by showing developers where they can chip away at time-consuming processes. Of course, anything in the plans that present potential risks to ecosystems, fisheries, tourism, and coastal views can bog down the development phase. Another major wrinkle is rounding up financing to get the projects built.
- Fabricate and construct wind farm: Mass production and standardization help developers rein in costs at the construction phase. This also is the phase where the weather starts to loom large. Though coastal storms can throw off timelines and potentially damage turbines during construction, advances in weather prediction technologies can help developers better prepare for severe weather.
Welcome news from European offshore wind
At PMI, we’re watching all these developments closely because we manufacture premium accessories for underwater cables that transmit electricity from offshore wind farms to the mainland power grid. We expect innovations in ocean renewables to be good for our business as well as the planet.
It’s true that offshore wind remains one of the most expensive renewable power sources, but costs are falling rapidly, according to IEEE Spectrum: Just four years ago, new projects were providing power at about €160 (US $179) per megawatt-hour amid hopes to reduce those costs to €100/MWh by 2020. Christensen of Siemens says prices are hitting that goal in 2017.
Ever-larger and more efficient wind farms should drive those costs lower in the years ahead, potentially attracting more investors, inventors and developers into the marketplace. This has the potential to motivate developers to shrink wind farm timelines as well.
On average, European offshore wind turbines stand in 29 meters (95 feet) of water about 44 kilometers (27 miles) from the shore, WindEurope reports. These two stats underscore one of the key reasons why offshore wind in U.S. waters is a flyspeck compared to the installed capacity of European wind farms.
The first U.S. offshore wind farm added a scant 30 megawatts of electrical capacity when construction wrapped up in 2016. By contrast, grid-connected capacity of European offshore wind farms rose by more than 1,600 MW in 2016 alone — with 338 new wind turbines expanding total capacity to 12,600 MW, according to WindEurope.
European leaders deserve plenty of credit for achieving bold offshore-wind goals, but that’s not the only force at work in Europe’s offshore-power dominance. The waters of the North, Irish, and Baltic seas tend to be shallow near the shoreline and fall gradually to maximum depths.
This is the optimum terrain for today’s offshore-wind technologies — and it’s abundant. By contrast, the entire west coast of the U.S. plunges deeply into the Pacific Ocean just off the shoreline. The continental shelf on the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico is much larger and shallower, but the specter of summer hurricanes casts a cloud on projects in warmer southern climes.
In essence, the most promising proposals for wind farms in U.S. waters lie in the cooler waters from the Carolinas northward to Maine. These waters boast a gently sloping continental shelf, much like the areas dotted with wind farms off the coast of Northern Europe. And while these northern waters are no strangers to fierce storms, they generally do not experience the destructive force of hurricanes.
Turning to deep-water development
Europe’s massive lead over North America in offshore wind shouldn’t obscure one central fact: European countries have fulfilled only a fraction of their offshore-wind power goals. And, like an apple tree bereft of low-hanging fruit, they have already developed many of the most valuable offshore-wind sites.
As offshore wind projects move farther from the coastline in Europe, naturally the water gets deeper. Soon, the fixed foundations for wind turbines will become prohibitively difficult to manufacture and install. This challenge invites the development of floating offshore wind platforms.
Floating platforms sound promising on paper, but only a few demonstration projects have gotten off the drawing board. But that could rapidly change in the space of a few years, according to WindEurope, the trade association for European wind power.
In a report issued in June 2017, WindEurope stated that floating platforms are ready for commercial development, and that costs could soon plunge as the technology enters the mainstream.
“Floating offshore wind offers a vast potential for growth,” WindEurope said. “80% of all the offshore wind resource is located in waters 60m and deeper in European seas, where traditional bottom-fixed offshore is less attractive. At 4,000 GW, it is significantly more than the resource potential of the U.S. and Japan combined.”
The report listed seven floating-platform projects in the works in Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, France, and the UK with nearly 350 MW of capacity that are expected to be commissioned in the next four years.
Taking a cue from offshore oil development
PMI has long provided premium cable accessories to oil-development companies, so we have a healthy respect for the difficulties in extracting energy from the deep ocean. And we’ve admired the ability of our industry partners to overcome these challenges.
But accidents happen despite the best efforts of the industry. Though floating offshore wind farms pose their share of environmental threats, there’s little chance of them being blamed for massive oil spills.
That’s one of the best reasons to be optimistic about the potential of offshore wind in the U.S. And as European developers build out floating platforms and drive down costs, American developers would be well advised to take advantage of the inevitable innovations that emerge.
It’s impossible to separate underwater engineering from the research emerging from major universities. Indeed, this engineering discipline is proving central to the evolution of offshore wind power in the United States.
That’s especially true at three Ohio universities, where researchers are building a scientific and engineering foundation for the development of offshore wind in the Great Lakes region. Since PMI is based in Cleveland not far from the shores of Lake Erie, we have interest in the success of our local researchers.
These scientists join a host of researchers around the country exploring the potential of offshore wind. Scientists and engineers also have explored the phenomenon of stranded energy in Alaska and weighed the potential of offshore wind along Florida’s thousand-mile coastline. (Stop by ScienceDaily.com and search on the phrase “offshore wind”—you’ll find a bevy of fascinating projects).
A quick review of these studies paints an impressive picture of the potential of underwater engineering to address the challenges of developing offshore wind farms.
Offshore in the Great Lakes
Case Western Reserve University, University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University have tested potential wind turbine designs and modeled wildlife travels around installed wind turbines. And, a local company has won a $40 million grant to develop an offshore wind farm in Lake Erie about eight miles north of Cleveland. These two projects offer a window on the development of offshore wind in the U.S.
- The Icebreaker Project. Lake Erie Energy Develop Corp. (LEEDCo) is spearheading the development of a six-turbine wind farm whose construction could start as early as 2018. It’s called Icebreaker because ice is a serious winter hazard on Lake Erie—to survive, a wind farm must be able to fend off massive ice floes. But the project’s importance goes far beyond underwater engineering. It’s also a pilot project for tapping the massive resources of the U.S. industrial heartland—potentially creating a center for offshore wind manufacturing for the whole country.
- Coastal Ohio Wind Project. This study united scientists from University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University to figure out whether offshore wind turbines in northern Ohio work better with two blades or three (two is a smarter choice, they concluded). They also studied migratory patterns of local bird species to assess the potential environmental risks of offshore wind on Lake Erie.
Stranded Energy in Alaska
Alaska’s energy potential stretches far beyond its oil and gas reserves. The state also has ample tidal, wind, and geothermal energy resources, but there’s a fundamental challenge: They’re all stranded—either too far from the nearest population center or simply too difficult to develop economically.
A report from the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at University of Alaska-Fairbanks explores the challenges of stranded energy in Alaska. Areas with abundant wind, for instance, have few people to use it. The report raises another fascinating (if remote) possibility—moving energy-intensive industrial processes like metals smelting to sections of Alaska that have enough cheap renewable energy to make such a move economically feasible.
Offshore wind in the Sunshine State?
Florida has abundant coastline and coastal breezes, but how ready is it for offshore energy development?
“Florida’s wide continental shelves and 1,197 miles of coastline present ample opportunities for siting wind farms outside of coastal view sheds,” concludes a report from the University of Florida-Gainesville. The report notes that offshore wind in Florida could conceivably produce thousands of megawatts of power, though it recommends further research to derive more authoritative energy estimates.
“A systematic and thorough evaluation of Florida’s wind resource is critical to identify the best opportunities for investing in the state’s offshore wind energy resources,” the report concludes.
Recently, the Northwestern National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) received a $40 million award from the United States Department of Energy to develop a tidal energy testing facilities along the Pacific coast. This project, the Pacific Marine Energy Center (PMEC), interacts with campuses across the coast, including:
- The University of Alaska Fairbanks
- University of Washington
- Oregon State University
These different facilities are testing everything from wave flume to river energy converters. Over time, more testing facilities might be added to further build the PMEC portfolio and realize the goal of renewable wave technology.
Research will guide us forward
It’s refreshing to see that researchers are undaunted by the considerable economic, ecological, and logistical challenges of developing offshore wind in the U.S.
At PMI, we’d certainly like to see the Great Lakes become a center of offshore wind technology, industry, and development. Our region has the wind, the skill and the industrial base to take offshore renewable energy as far as it can go.
And suffice to say if it can happen in the middle of the continent, it certainly can happen along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts.
While Europe gets all the credit for the rise of efficient offshore wind farms, there’s a lot of potential brewing in Asia — especially in countries that already have active land-based wind power.
China has already built so many inland wind farms on land that it has more capacity than its interior population can use — which frequently idles many turbines. Coastal cities, however, are much more hungry for power, so offshore wind is still a priority.
South Korea’s first offshore wind farm is set to be commissioned later this year, with 10 turbines near Jeju, an island south of the nation’s mainland. Japan has a smattering of small offshore wind farms and plans for innovative floating platforms, and Taiwan is getting into the offshore-wind game as well.
We’re also excited about the potential for offshore wind energy in India, Singapore, and Indonesia. Here’s a quick look at what’s happening with offshore wind and marine renewables in each of them:
India’s 4,600 miles (7,500 km) of coastline present abundant opportunities for offshore wind development. The world’s most populous democracy already has a goal of producing 60 gigawatts of wind power by 2022, but offshore wind farms are still years in the future.
Sarvesh Kumar, chairman of the Indian Wind Turbine Manufacturing Association, said in an interview with LiveMint.com that he expects India to be ready to implement offshore projects by about 2020.
Meanwhile, India’s power needs are exploding. As more of its 1.3 billion people move into cities, power demand is expected to quadruple by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency’s “India Energy Outlook 2015.”
Experts are already scoping out the potential of the coastlines of Gujarat on the west coast and Tamil Nadu in the southeast.
The city-state at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula is well-known for its innovations in finance, industry, and technology. All those assets are coming into play as Singapore ramps up its focus on renewable energy sources.
In one of its most fascinating renewables initiatives, Nanyang Technological University is building an energy plant that combines elements of solar, tidal, wind, and power-to-gas technologies in a demonstration project that could potentially bring cheap electricity to remote islands with small populations.
The project will develop four microgrids that can provide about 1 megawatt of power, enough for a small community living in an area with abundant sea resources. It also could be an emergency energy source.
Though Singapore’s topography makes it unsuitable for domestic wind power generation, many global companies in the wind-power sector have set up Singapore offices to take advantage of its access to capital and technologies. So don’t be surprised to see the city-state come up in renewable-energy discussions.
Microgrid developers no doubt had Indonesia on their minds, given that the archipelago has more than 900 inhabited islands. The nation’s far-flung population complicates its renewable-energy potential, but it’s still aiming to ramp up its commitment to green energies, including wind power.
Indonesia’s opening forays into wind power are ramping up on land, with the Danish company Vestas supplying turbines to a 60-megawatt wind farm in the province of South Sulawesi. All those islands have potential for developing offshore wind as well — a fact not lost on the European firms working to get a toehold in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, a tidal energy project in Indonesia uses a novel approach: attaching underwater turbines to a floating bridge. The Palmerah Tidal Bridge will install tidal turbines close to the water surface where there is more water movement — and hence more energy potential — than turbines installed on the sea floor.
Asia showing the way forward
The rising economies and growing populations of Asia will place ever-increasing pressure on the region’s energy systems. Indeed, forward-looking Asian nations have developed ambitious renewable-energy goals that will require substantial expertise and capital investment.
The maturity of wind power in the U.S. and Europe combined with the massive growth in China mean there’s plenty of renewable energy expertise across the region. It’ll be incumbent on entrepreneurs, financiers, and governments to find common ground to take advantage of these opportunities.
A shallow patch of the North Sea is the site of an intriguing plan to reduce the cost and complexity of offshore wind farms.
Announced in March 2017, the plan calls for the construction of an artificial island to form the hub of a massive network of wind turbines. One key advantage of a hub is that it shortens the distance between the wind turbines and land — slashing cabling costs and reducing the risk of cable damage. The hub would then distribute the electricity to mainland power grids.
European power companies based in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands signed an agreement to launch a feasibility study for constructing the North Sea Wind Power Hub on Dogger Bank, which is just over 60 miles east of England’s coastline.
Media reports estimated the cost at around $2 billion and suggested it could go into development between 2030 and 2050.
Details on the North Sea Wind Power Hub
The current proposal calls for an artificial island of about 2.5 square miles with an airport, harbor, homes for staff and solar panels. Multiple wind farms could feed into the island hub, which would use direct-current cables to transmit energy to the mainland.
The developers say the project could capture up to 100,000 megawatts of power and serve up to 80 million people in Europe. The hub also could be a vital connection point in the energy markets of Northern Europe.
The developers are transmission system operators TenneT B.V. of the Netherlands, Energinet.dk of Denmark and TenneT GmbH of Germany. They signed an agreement in Brussels to work together on the Wind Power Hub project.
Why Dogger Bank?
The North Sea’s Dogger Bank is much shallower than its surrounding waters, making it an ideal location for wind farm development. Water depths range from 50 to 120 feet in the bank, which stretches across 6,800 square miles.
Dogger Bank is in the middle of a section of the North Sea bounded by England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Norway. The bank also is a well-known fishing area, supplying cod and herring to European markets.
Shallow waters and strong winds make Dogger Bank an attractive candidate for an offshore wind farm. But the project’s effects on major fisheries could be one of the major wrinkles to emerge in the feasibility study.
Artificial islands are feasible and practical
China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea is one of the most high-profile examples of the engineering prowess required to enable these kinds of projects.
Though the islands may unnerve neighboring nations, they do establish the feasibility of building artificial islands in open seas. As a wind farm hub, an artificial island provides a central location for ships, planes, personnel and other resources that would have to cross much larger distances from the mainland, piling costs onto already expensive projects.
Achieving scale makes offshore wind more practical
The ultimate goal of the North Sea Power Hub is to centralize and standardize the far-flung operations of multiple wind farms. This creates economies of scale that make offshore wind much more practical.
Of course, significant challenges must be worked out. Building an island in the middle of an active fishery is bound to bring scrutiny from regulators and the fisheries industry — though at first glance it appears the island would be a mere speck in comparison to the overall size of Dogger Bank.
Wind energy is clean and sustainable, and open-ocean has the strongest winds. These twin forces make offshore wind one of Europe’s best candidates for meeting its ambitious goal of shrinking greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent (from 1990 levels) over the next 30 years. That’s all the more reason to cheer the emergence of innovative offshore wind projects like the one proposed in Dogger Bank.
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May 1, 2017, is the scheduled cutover date for the Block Island Wind Farm, whose five turbines will begin transmitting up to 30 megawatts of wind-generated power to the mainland power grid. The towers are arranged near Block Island, a tourist destination off the coast of Rhode Island that has about a thousand permanent residents.
At full strength, the turbines can power about 17,000 homes. They can supply up to 90 percent of Block Island’s energy needs, and surplus power can be transmitted to the U.S. power grid. Connecting the farm to the mainland power grid was the final step in a process that took most of a decade: seven years of regulatory approvals followed by two years of construction.
May 1 marks a victory for Deepwater Wind, the company that spearheaded the $300 million project. Based in Providence, Rhode Island, the company hopes to develop wind farms off the coasts of New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey.
All eyes will be on Block Island
Offshore is the last frontier for wind power in the United States, which has over 52,000 land-based wind turbines. Though the U.S. has ample shoreline for marine-based wind power, it hasn’t had much appetite for wind turbines posted in coastal waters.
That could change, though, depending on the success of the Block Island project. Ostensibly, the project aimed to help the island’s residents end their reliance on dirty, expensive diesel-powered generators. But the bigger-picture issue is whether the lessons of Block Island can help people find economical ways to develop offshore wind in the years to come.
Construction of the five towers began in the spring of 2015 and wrapped up in the fourth quarter of 2016 — on time and within budget, according to news reports. Given that wind farm technology is mature in Europe, which has over 3,000 offshore wind turbines, it’s no surprise that construction went pretty much as expected.
News reports said the turbines did fine during a coastal storm in March 2017 that produced winds of more than 70 mph. The true test will be how well the towers fare during hurricane season, when sustained winds above 100 mph can have disastrous consequences. The turbine’s blades can be feathered to protect against furious winds, but it’ll take a real hurricane to test their stormworthiness.
What’s ahead for U.S. offshore wind
At 600 feet high, the Block Island wind turbines are designed to capture stronger winds at higher altitudes. Future designs may be as high as 800 feet or more.
Deepwater Wind plans to build wind farms about 15 miles from the shoreline, where winds are stronger and the towers are less obtrusive to the eye. And developers are working on offshore platforms that could situate wind farms far out of sight of land, potentially silencing complaints that the towers ruin coastal views.
What we can’t see is how the social, political and economic winds will blow. These projects require years of financial and regulatory haggling. If fossil fuel costs remain low, investment dollars may be hard to come by. And the political climate could make it harder to get more wind farm projects approved.
The case for getting offshore wind into the mix
We have no illusions that renewables like wind and solar power will replace fossil fuels like petroleum and natural gas in the near future. But we do believe there’s much more room for renewables in the U.S. energy portfolio.
The U.S. is one of the largest contributors to the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet and causing climate change. That creates an obligation to apply the lessons of land-based wind power to the needs of offshore wind farms, and to learn from the experience of developers in Europe and Asia.
It’s true that offshore wind is expensive. The question is whether the cost of neglecting this resource will be even higher.
Why the U.S. Should Embrace Offshore Wind
Analytics: Measurement Means Everything to the Future of Offshore Wind
Recent Offshore Wind Developments in the U.S.
Server farms are increasingly crucial to the success of wind farms — offshore and otherwise. Data scientists armed with cloud-hosted analytics applications and tower-based telemetry can track every minute in the life of a wind turbine.
This is especially crucial in the rugged offshore environment, where storms, corrosion, sea life and everyday wear and tear test the survival of offshore wind turbines.
Today we’ll take a quick look at why analytics — the sciences of measurement and analysis — are so important to the evolution of offshore wind power.
Data science and predictive maintenance
Thanks to innovations in data science and cloud computing, wind farm operations can create complex models that cross-reference and correlate the effects of wind, weather, and wear in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago.
The great challenge with offshore wind comes down to trimming the massive installation costs and preventing costly equipment breakdowns. With improvements in analytics-driven predictive maintenance, offshore wind installations will get even better at tracking when key parts are due to fail and replacing them before an expensive breakdown.
The benefits of this deep dive into data analysis are two-fold: trimming operating costs, and showing system designers the best opportunities for higher efficiencies in upcoming generations of towers and turbines.
Land-based wind power is already price-competitive with mainstream energy sources in many markets. Precise analytics will be one of the keys to helping offshore wind farms equal that performance.
The Belgium-based Offshore Wind Infrastructure (OWI) Application Lab is testing a broad range of technologies to help offshore wind operators exploit the advantages of advanced data science.
One of their experiments proved that a floating platform can use LIDAR (light detection and ranging) devices to track offshore wind patterns. Essentially, it’s the same technology police use to nab speeding drivers: Pointing a laser beam at a specific area and measuring the motion in the area where the light beam hits.
LIDAR is excellent measurement technology on land. But making it work on water has been cost-prohibitive, OWI Application Lab says. That’s why the successful test of a floating LIDAR, or FLIDAR, prototype a few years back was such welcome news.
“The profitability of offshore wind farms depends heavily on the ability to predict and deliver maximum power output at competitive costs,” OWI Application Lab says. “Reaching this optimum first requires an in-depth knowledge of the wind resource.”
With analytics, windfarm operators can fold extra-precise wind measurements into their overall operating models to make even better predictions about the lifespans of their turbines.
Measuring the prospects of offshore wind
At PMI, we know the benefits of using advanced technologies to create products tough enough to withstand the attacks of weather and corrosion at sea. Science and engineering make it possible for to build some of the world’s best subsea cable accessories.
That’s why we’re so optimistic about the prospects of analytics and data science to make renewables like offshore wind more price competitive in the years to come. In a warming world, it can’t happen too soon.
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If you follow the evolution of marine energy like we do, you’re bound to see references to marine biogeography.
We’ve come to see why marine biogeography will play a crucial role in the development of offshore wind and other marine-energy sources.
The basics on marine biogeography
What is marine biogeography, and why does it matter to the renewables industry?
Biogeography the is mapping of living things. It helps scientists and researchers document the life cycles of plants and animals in specific regions within defined time periods. Biogeography reveals the health of ecosystems where people plan to build things. And it helps target areas for restoration of threatened species.
Biogeography offers a path to cleaner ocean energy development
Wind farms and marine-energy developments represent the bright future of the sustainable energy industry. But to truly be sustainable, they must be able to produce power without significant damage to marine ecosystems.
Our oceans are already under considerable stress from overfishing, pollution, and climate change. Sustainable energy projects cannot add to that environmental toll. Fortunately, marine biogeography has the tools and techniques we need to ensure cleaner, safer development of ocean-energy projects.
How marine biogeography works
Marine biogeography produces a visual representation of a subsea biome. It creates a three-dimensional image revealing mountains, valleys, trenches, flatlands, continental shelfs, reefs, and anything else on the ocean floor. And it shows the species of plants and animals living there.
The process of marine biogeography works like this:
- A research ship travels to an area to be studied.
- Multibeam radar scans the ocean floor to document its topography. It sends out about 1,500 radar “soundings” per second, capturing every contour.
- Split-beam sonar scans for any fish in the area.
- Remotely operated vehicles photograph the area to confirm everything that came up on the radar.
- Computers interpret the soundings and create 3D images revealing the shape of the ocean bottom and the native flora and fauna.
Note, this is not a one-time process: Because so many animals migrate and humans change the oceans constantly, marine biogeography must be repeated several times before scientists can truly understand the ecosystems they are studying.
Hawaii: Marine biogeography in action
Hawaii has abundant sunshine and oceans on every side, making it a prime locale for renewables like solar and offshore wind.
U.S. government researchers are teaming up with local scientists and other experts to study the ecological impact of installing windfarms in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. Biogeographic studies will help them identify the places where a windfarm would do the least damage to sea life.
Offshore wind is more than a cool idea in Hawaii: Islanders pay the highest electricity costs in the United States because their primary fossil-fuel energy sources must be transported across thousands of miles of ocean. The state hopes to get all its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar by the year 2040, cutting its dependence on fossil fuels.
Potential impacts of wind farm development
We’ve already written about the environmental impacts of marine energy projects. A wind farm requires several large, concrete bases installed on the sea floor. Building these will affect life at the construction sites, but that is temporary for the most part.
There’s also the challenge of laying transmission cables from the towers to the mainland. These must be buried beneath the sea floor, creating another potential disruption.
And there’s the issue of underwater structures encouraging the formation of new reefs — and inviting in invasive reef species that crowd out native life.
Marine biogeography will help wind farm developers identify migration routes, spawning beds and other things that sea life must have to survive.
Marine biogeography will help map the future of ocean energy
Ocean-energy developers are bound to be told things they do not want to hear, thanks to marine biogeography. But ultimately, they need to know if whales are migrating through the middle of their development projects. The sooner they know, the better.
Of course, we have more than a rooting interest in marine energy at PMI. All these projects need cables for mooring and power transmission, and our premium cable accessories are designed precisely for these kinds of projects.
In sum, we like what we’re seeing from the field of marine biogeography. It’s good for our oceans, which makes it good for everybody.