The PMI team had a busy August having attended the ONS 2018 Conference in Stavanger, Norway. The conference not only provided a chance to connect with industry professionals, government officials, and catch up with clients, but also to learn more about what’s shaking up the market.
Innovation is the name of the game
Cost reduction through innovation was a common theme throughout the conference. More technological breakthroughs and policies are changing, providing the momentum oil and gas (O&G) industries need to continue to grow, evolve, and stay relevant. A number of ONS attendees were exhibiting alternative forms of energy including wind and wave.
One of the hottest topics of conversation was Equinor’s proposed plans to build the Hywind Tampen floating wind park. This park plans to reduce carbon emissions on Equinor’s oil and gas platforms. This kind of project displays some of the innovative ways the oil and gas industry is working to incorporate wind — especially floating wind projects — as a form of energy for offshore platforms. Offshore wind farms in the North Sea may be seeing more floating wind projects in their future.
A lot of discussions were also centered on O&G market conditions as the renewable fuel industries are now some of the fastest growing sectors. From our perspective, the majority of attendees felt there was a slight uptick in the market, but others had a more reserved outlook.
In addition, several seismic companies indicated an increase in activity, while other companies mentioned rounds of layoffs. It may be too soon to tell the ultimate trajectory of these markets, but we’re enlivened to see companies with new forms of energy coming to the table with creative solutions to today’s energy challenges.
PMI has been a key supplier for many companies within the oil and gas market, for nearly half a century. We offer full-service engineering from concept to production and provide cable protection and management systems for oil and gas and renewable energy projects.
While some other suppliers have closed doors, PMI has weathered the swings in market conditions by providing quality cable protection and terminations for our clients’ most demanding applications. This quality is what continues to set us apart from other suppliers.
PMI also stands alone in our low-hassle, no-tools-required cable protection assembly systems. Whereas other products, such as terminations, may require up to 12 hours to cure, PMI’s terminations can be completely assembled and ready to go in just 30 minutes.
Our experience working with projects across all sectors — oil and gas, wind, and wave energy — allows PMI to be an invaluable resource to our clients in all stages of their project development. In a world of tight timelines and budgets, PMI strives to create the cable protection systems that can remove the headaches and wasted time and energy so engineers can focus on their biggest project goals — not get caught up in cable complications. After all, about 80% of all project disruptions come from cable failures.
We’re always excited to attend ONS and it was a great opportunity to connect with some of our current clients and leaders from around the world. (PMI’s team even had the opportunity to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Norway and mayors of Stavanger Bergen!). We look forward to seeing even more of our clients and connecting with leading industry professionals at several more of this year’s upcoming conferences.
The challenges of developing practical, economical offshore wind power are pushing engineers and entrepreneurs to new heights — and depths — of ingenuity.
We’ve talked about the pitfalls and potential of offshore wind and other marine renewables for years in our Ocean Engineering Blog. We’ve noted that it’ll never be easy to build technologies that must be submerged in corrosive, turbulent subsea environments. And marine-renewables will remain a tough sell as long as oil prices stay low.
But these challenges haven’t stifled innovation in the ocean-renewables sector, especially offshore wind. Here’s a look at some of the encouraging news we’re seeing:
Autonomous underwater and remote-operated vehicles (AUVs, ROVs)
The cost of deploying ships and divers to inspect, maintain, and repair cables and other subsea components has been a costly drag on offshore wind farms for decades. Widespread adoption of versatile, low-operating-cost AUVs and ROVs can reduce those costs substantially.
As we learned at Subsea Expo 2018 in Aberdeen, Scotland, companies developing advanced AUVs and ROVs are adding new capabilities that, for instance, add a cutting tool to an inspection AUV. Another promising development is underwater charging stations that allow subsea vehicles to roam free without cables. Instead, the stations themselves have cable connections to power sources.
Larger, more powerful turbines
GE Renewable Energy’s forthcoming Haliade-X 12-mw turbine underscores the drive to build ever-larger devices that produce more energy in a single tower. Billed as the most powerful turbine on the planet, the Haliade-X will be able to power 16,000 European households with a single turbine. That means a single wind farm of 50 towers could serve 800,000 households — potentially a city of more than 2 million people.
Standing 260 meters high with a 220-meter rotor, the Haliade-X will produce 45% more energy than any other turbine on the market, GE says. It’s expected to start showing up in wind farms in 2021. For more on the size challenges in offshore wind, see this profile of former Siemens CTO Henrik Stiesdal in Wind Power Monthly.
The prospects for offshore wind farms on floating platforms got a boost in March 2018 when Statoil announced its new floating platform off the coast of Scotland reached a 65% capacity factor for November 2017 through January 2018 — besting a host of competing power sources. That news supports the principal rationale for floating platforms: deploying them farther from shore, where the winds are stronger and more consistent.
Capacity factor estimates a powerplant’s output as a percentage of its theoretical energy capacity. Greentech Media noted that U.S. onshore wind farms have a capacity factor of 37%, while coal- and gas-fired power plants have capacity factors of 54-55%.
Floating platforms could be the future of offshore wind, but most projects in the next few years will keep using towers anchored to the seabed. Current anchoring methods create an abundance of noise, disturbing sea life and generating concerns about the environmental impact of offshore installations.
A new alternative is the suction-bucket foundation, which uses a base shaped like an inverted bucket. It works like this: After the bucket settles on the seafloor, operators pump out all the water inside it, creating a pressure differential that helps fix the bucket in place. When it’s time to decommission the bucket, water can be poured back into it. The first commercial-scale suction-bucket foundation in a wind farm was installed earlier this year off the coast of Scotland, Powermag.com reported.
Here’s a look at recent research in the offshore-wind sector:
- Seabird avoidance. Seabirds have little trouble avoiding the spinning blades of offshore-wind turbines, a new study finds. Windpower Engineering & Development summarized results of the Bird Collision Avoidance Study, which used video cameras and high-tech sensors to track bird movements around a working wind farm in the English Channel. The study analyzed more than 600,000 videos monitoring activity at the wind farm. Of those, about 12,000 showed bird activity. Notably, the videos captured a scant six collisions over the course of the study.
- Anti-corrosion studies. Offshore Wind Journal reviews reports pointing to potential solutions to the nagging problem of corrosion in subsea environments. The reports estimated that reducing corrosion could generate savings in the tens of billions of dollars throughout the ocean-renewables sector over the next three decades.
Offshore wind keeps showing more promise
These updates offer just a glimpse of the encouraging developments in the offshore-wind sector. As turbines grow more powerful and engineers figure out new ways to reduce costs and protect subsea ecosystems, it will become ever more realistic to depict offshore wind as an experimental power source with mainstream potential.
The PMI team had a good week attending the recent International Partnering Forum for Offshore Wind in Princeton, NJ. The exhibit hall, networking opportunities, and especially the B2B meetings with supply chain partners were great opportunities to meet with other developers, cable manufacturers, contractors, and installers.
While this conference doesn’t have as much of an international draw as some other tradeshows, it still provides a worthwhile meeting for domestic innovators and leaders in the Offshore Wind industry.
Many of PMI’s products are versatile and are valuable for use in offshore wind, along with other sectors including marine engineering/operations, telecommunications, and the renewable energy market. Meeting with engineering, construction, manufacturing, and consultant companies gives us a great opportunity to show how PMI’s “No Tools/Prep Required” cable products can eliminate many of the stressors associated with subsea and offshore cable operations.
Much of the conference buzz revolved around the excitement at the increasing opportunities for renewable offshore wind projects in the United States. (Several upcoming projects seem to be located around the East Coast: New Jersey and Massachusetts.) Offshore wind farm possibilities are also becoming more of the norm. In the midst of all these advances, however, is the need to develop solutions for “lighter” and less costly cable solutions.
While meeting with some of the leading, innovative companies, we were able to learn about the industry’s most pressing issues and challenges related to offshore and subsea cable operations and explore how PMI could assist with their efforts, such as working to minimize the damage to inter array and export cable installation and post damage cable repair.
PMI is proud to be a part of such an innovative industry, and has a proven track record for delivering market solutions such as these for over 50 years.
Ice hasn’t necessarily put a chill on the development of offshore wind in the Great Lakes of North America, but it does pose a significant challenge — both in the design of offshore wind turbines and the maintenance of subsea power transmission cables.
Winter is a wildcard for the Great Lakes because the offshore wind industry has traditionally avoided ice-prone regions. Most new oceanic wind farms can tap decades of knowledge gleaned from the maturation of Northern Europe’s offshore wind industry.
That’s not exactly the case for projects in water that freezes every year. The first wind farm designed specifically to cope with ice opened off the west coast of Finland in the autumn of 2017. The 42-megawatt Tahkoluoto wind farm relies on gravity-based foundations that are tapered at water level to resist friction with ice.
Ice and subsea cables
Reports on the Finnish wind farm have mentioned the tower base design but haven’t delved into the implications for subsea cables. We’re not privy to the technical specifications of the project’s subsea cables, but we can offer a few insights based on our decades of experience with subsea cables in harsh environments:
- The extreme weight and mass of ice place relentless pressure on anything in its way. Wind farms on the Great Lakes have to be designed with these risks in mind, laying cables strategically to keep them away from ice flows and buildups. The inherently unpredictable nature of weather and the motion of ice could conceivably surprise wind farm developers.
- Winter repairs will be extremely complicated. It’s difficult enough to send a ship to the site of a cable break in the open sea — it can take weeks or months to get a crew to the site, fetch the cable, repair it, and return it to the seabed. Imagine attempting repairs in the winter in the Great Lakes where variable weather changes the ice thickness constantly.
Engineers can design for the most likely scenarios for subsea cables, but there’s nothing like real life to teach us lessons we couldn’t foresee with ice and wind farms.
The value of wind farms in icy locales
The abundance of strong winds across the Great Lakes creates opportunities to develop new technologies and engineer novel solutions to icy problems. As ice resides along Arctic coastlines, wind farm developments could bring clean power to remote communities that otherwise depend on fossil fuels for heating and light.
However, we can only figure out so much of what is on the drawing board. To understand the depth of the challenges of ice in offshore wind, people need to build wind farms and learn the lessons nature inevitably provides.
At PMI, we look forward to engineering rugged, high-performance subsea cable accessories that will be critical to the success of wind power in the Great Lakes and beyond.
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.
- Analytics: Measurement Means Everything to the Future of Offshore Wind
- Market Opportunities for Offshore Wind: What Does the Future Hold?
- Challenges in the Installation and Repair of Offshore Wind Turbines
- Damage to Subsea Cables a Huge Risk to Offshore Wind Farms
Installing and maintaining offshore wind turbines is an incredibly complex undertaking full of daunting logistical challenges.
For starters, ships built to install turbines can cost $100 million or more. Stormy weather can delay installations and thwart repairs. Weather and erosion exact a long-term cost on turbine blades, and turbine engines must be painstakingly designed for always on-operation for decades.
Here’s a quick look at some of the difficulties in installation and repairs in offshore wind installations:
Placing a foundation on the sea floor is a sophisticated, highly complex job. A gravity-base foundation uses a large volume of reinforced concrete and must be moved to a carefully prepared spot on the seafloor. All this requires specialized ocean vessels and specific expertise.
Sea floors vary widely around the world. For instance, the sea bed off the coast of China is a lot different than the sea bed of European waters, so foundation expertise gained in Europe might not apply in China — adding to the complexity (and expense) of China’s ambitious offshore-wind agenda.
Once the foundation is installed, it becomes vulnerable to saltwater corrosion and underwater species that attach themselves and may have to be eventually removed at considerable cost.
Longer turbine blades produce much more energy than shorter ones, so the blades keep getting longer and longer as the offshore-wind industry evolves. Obviously, longer blades will create extra complications in transport and installation.
But the bigger challenge is in maintenance. Blades suffer substantial erosion from constant exposure to the wind that decreases their efficiency. They often also suffer lightning strikes that cause considerable damage below the wind-facing surface.
And the manufacturing processes of turbine blades are not completely standardized, so maintenance processes for one kind of blade can be substantially different than those on another variety. This adds to the difficulty of finding and training people to perform maintenance on turbine blades
Turbine engines are large mechanical devices suspended high in the air. Installation is fairly straightforward because the offshore wind industry is so mature in European waters. But it’s still a non-trivial job to install a wind turbine engine in the open ocean because of the usual weather pressures.
Because they run 24 hours a day for years on end, turbine engines must be carefully designed and manufactured to close tolerances to minimize breakdowns. An article in Forbes magazine likened running a wind turbine for 20 years to getting 3 million miles from a car engine.
Turbine engines have lots of moving parts including bearings and gears that eventually wear out. This cannot be entirely avoided, but it can be monitored with increasingly sophisticated computer software that can predict when critical parts will fail, and allow them to be removed before they give out and cause serious damage to the machinery.
The technology for laying transmission cables is mature and the techniques are well understood. At PMI, we’ve been building premium, high-performance subsea cable accessories for decades, so we’ve seen these developments up-close.
The biggest maintenance challenges for transmission cables happen if they get snagged by ship anchors or fishing-trawler equipment, or if they’re damaged in subsea landslides. These mishaps require sending highly trained crews to the site of the break and fashioning a repair at sea. That will always be expensive and time-consuming.
Costs cannot be ignored
Offshore wind remains very expensive to install, maintain and operate. WindEurope (formerly EWEA) reports that offshore wind LCoE must be reduced in order for it to “remain a viable option in the long-term.”
This places a lot of pressure on offshore-wind operators to find ways to reduce these kinds of costs. Using cheaper materials may be attractive in the short run, but if it adds to long-run maintenance costs, it’ll be a bad bargain because fixing things at sea is so much more complex.
Offshore wind in the U.S. got a nice boost in June when the U.S. government announced that 81,130 acres off the coast of New York will be opened to leasing for offshore wind power projects.
Commercial offshore wind providers will have an opportunity to bid for leases they will need to develop wind farms in an area 11 miles south of Long Island. Although the U.S. does not have a single offshore wind farm up and running right now, the first project is expected to be operational by the end of 2016 and many more are on the way.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has already awarded 11 commercial offshore wind leases worth $16 million and covering more than a million acres of U.S. waters, according to the BOEM website.
Nine of those leases have been sold through competitive bidding: Two each in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland; two for an area between Rhode Island and Massachusetts; and one for Virginia.
Offshore wind power has a long way to go in the U.S., especially compared to Europe, which has over 3,000 wind turbines up and running. But U.S. several projects are in the works:
- A pair of six-megawatt wind turbines is proposed off the coast of Virginia. The BOEM has awarded a research lease for the project and approved a research action plan in March.
- An offshore wind project planned for Maryland could install as many as 125 turbines. It’ll still be a couple more years before construction starts, and two more years after that to complete the project.
- A more preliminary project is slated for the coast of New Jersey. That project is only in the opening stages. U.S. Wind, headquartered in Boston, is developing the New Jersey and Maryland projects.
- Another New Jersey project is being developed by Fishermen’s Energy, which won a Department of Energy grant to start a demonstration project near Atlantic City.
- DONG Energy, a Danish company that has done large projects in Europe, acquired the rights last year to develop a wind farm about 25 miles off the shore of Martha’s Vineyard.
The bottom line is that offshore wind will at least have demonstration projects up and running by the end of this decade to establish what works and what doesn’t.
The slow pace of adoption in the United States may frustrate advocates of renewable energy, but it’s important to remember that there was a time not so long ago when there were no wind farms in Europe. If oil prices jump and the political climate changes in ways that make offshore wind more attractive, we could see a lot more wind-power projects popping up off American shores.
After all, the technology is mature, thanks to the experience gained building Europe’s wind-power systems. A lot could change very quickly if all the right factors come together at the same time.
While more than 3,000 offshore wind turbines push electricity to power-hungry Europeans, the number of towering turbines in U.S. waters is precisely zero. But that’s about to change.
The first U.S. offshore wind farm is slowly rising in the Atlantic Ocean south of the state of Rhode Island and east of New York’s Long Island. It could be up and running by the end of 2016, according to media reports.
The five-tower farm is small in scale and enormous in price: the $290 million project will provide energy to 1,000 year-round residents of a remote tourist stop called Block Island, where energy costs are extremely high because the island is more than 10 miles from the mainland. Developers of the project hope it will establish a toehold for offshore wind energy in the United States.
Once this project starts delivering power, it may be able to provide insights on economies of scale that will enable an industry to take root on the Eastern Seaboard. The relatively shallow Atlantic Shelf provides the only viable choice for the U.S. because the Pacific Shelf hugs the coastline and drops off sharply, making the waters are far too deep for wind farm development.
The large offshore wind farms of Europe rely on government subsidies and policies designed to push more and more European energy consumption into the green-energy sector, but such policies are far more rare in the United States. While investors have made wind turbines a common sight across the broad open plains of the nation’s interior, finding folks brave enough to try the untested waters of offshore wind energy in the U.S. another matter altogether.
High up-front costs, investor skepticism and lack of public-sector support equal slow going for offshore wind the U.S. Low fuel prices also are discouraging development of renewable energy sources. But eventually, hydrocarbon costs will rebound and make these kinds of projects more attractive.
The five towers of the Block Island project will be 600 feet high and designed to withstand a category 3 hurricane. Because the winds are stronger at higher altitudes and farther away from shore, wind farm developers have an incentive to build taller towers in ever-more-remote locations. The Block Island towers must be installed on platforms that sit on the seabed in several hundred feet of water — dramatically adding to the project’s costs. In the decades to come, floating platforms anchored to the seabed may provide a much more economical base for offshore wind energy projects.
Whatever the future holds, we’ll be providing the durable cable hardware that enables the offshore wind energy industry to transmit energy to people on land.
More on the Block Island project:
• First US Offshore Wind Energy Projects Could Deliver Jolt Of Momentum To Struggling Sector
• America’s First Offshore Wind Farm Quietly Takes Shape
Fundy Bay is famous for pictures of fishing boats tilted on their hulls — run aground by the immense power of the world’s largest tides.
The waters of this scenic coastal inlet along Canada’s Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provinces rise and fall by more than 50 feet twice a day, every day of the year. That predictability is one of the key reasons why green-energy researchers are fascinated with the potential of converting tidal movements into electricity. Solar power goes dark after sunset and wind power rises and falls with moving weather patterns. But tides rise and fall like clockwork, creating the potential for an extremely reliable stream of electric power.
The Trouble with Tidal Energy
Unfortunately, the ocean is one of the worst places on earth to install mechanical equipment. Saltwater is extremely corrosive, and working on machinery underwater is incredibly dangerous and expensive.
Some wave and tidal energy projects are mounting turbines on the sea floor. This keeps the turbines out of sight, which is a boon to coastal views, but it also dramatically increases the costs of upkeep precisely because they are so difficult to access.
Floating Platforms: A Tidal Energy Alternative
Fundy Bay’s epic tides have made it a hub for working out these kinds of challenges in wave and tidal energy research. One alternative researches are exploring is mounting a turbine beneath a floating platform that’s moored to the ocean floor via cables. A turbine connected to a floating platform could have all of its machinery easily accessible from the platform rather than mounted on the sea floor, where the only way to reach it is with scuba divers or remote-operated vehicles (or both).
In March 2016, a Canadian firm called Dynamic Systems Analysis (DSA) helped launch a floating research platform called EcoSPRAY that will document how highly turbulent tides work. This, in turn, will provide clues to the best ways to deploy floating tidal energy platforms that have been moored to the ocean floor.
The platform is operating in the Grand Passage between Freeport and Westport, Nova Scotia, in the Outer Bay of Fundy. Sensors on the EcoSPRAY will track wind speeds, tidal currents and wave actions. A drag plate mounted on the bottom of the platform will simulate the thrust of an underwater turbine, DSA says.
Protecting tidal ecosystems
While floating tidal power platforms would be less visually pleasing than turbines mounted on the sea floor, they have the potential to be less disruptive to underwater environments. Mounting an underwater turbine is a major construction project, whereas placing anchor points on the sea floor for mooring cables could be far less disruptive to the coastal environment.
Protecting that environment is very much on the minds of Fundy Bay researchers. Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE), the Offshore Energy Research Association (OERA) and the Nova Scotia Department of Energy are all working together on a half-million-dollar program to determine the effects of tidal energy turbines this year.
This points to the future of wave and tidal energy, which may well depend on finding the best mix of high energy output, low cost and minimal impact on the subsea environment.