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.
With more than 95,000 miles of shoreline, the United States looks like an ideal candidate for offshore wind energy development. But it’s not that simple.
A substantial portion of U.S. shoreline tracks the Southern Atlantic states and the Gulf of Mexico, where the winds are either too weak most of the year or potentially catastrophic during hurricane season. The Pacific Coast has steady, powerful winds, but the continental shelf drops off sharply near the shore, requiring floating wind-power platforms that cost much more than fixed-position wind farms.
The economics of offshore wind present a second order of complexity. Offshore wind developers have to weigh factors including:
- Costs of competing energy sources like coal and natural gas
- Population density of the area using the power
- Availability of subsidies and renewable energy credits
- Expense of designing, manufacturing, and deploying wind farms
An intriguing study from the Berkeley Lab’s Electricity Markets & Policy Group developed a series of models to compare the economic value of offshore energy projects along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States from 2007 to 2016:
“The market value of offshore wind between 2007-2016 varies significantly by project location and is highest for sites off of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts,” the study found.
States with most promising developments
In a May 2018 article, POWER magazine listed the most promising states for offshore wind. That roundup included:
- Massachusetts. With the doomed Cape Wind project finally out of the picture, the prospects for other offshore power projects are improving. The state government has passed legislation targeting 1,600 MW of offshore wind power by June 30, 2027. The law requires a buffer of 10 miles between offshore wind farms and inhabited areas to avoid angering the public, which prizes its coastal views. Three companies are bidding for projects off Martha’s Vineyard.
- Maryland. Two companies have been awarded renewable energy credits to develop wind farms of 120 MW and 248 MW. The credits are worth $3.6 billion over two decades. Developers are required to create nearly 5,000 jobs and invest in a steel fabrication plant and port upgrades. The project will involve 77 turbines from 12 to 21 miles offshore.
- New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo would like to see 2,400 MW of offshore wind power developed in the next two decades. He wants to start with 800 MW in 2018-19.
- New Jersey. The state’s Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, passed in 2010, sets a goal of 3,500 MW of new power generation by 2030. The state’s Board of Public Utilities plans to solicit 1,100 MW of new projects, which would be the nation’s largest so far.
States and projects further down the coastline in Georgia and the Carolinas appear much less likely to bear fruit, the POWER magazine article explained.
Pacific Ocean possibilities
The Pacific Coast and the Hawaiian Islands each present intriguing opportunities because their terrain limitations require innovations in floating offshore platforms. Unlike Europe’s North Sea and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, the shoreline of the Pacific plunges to depths that are impractical for the development of standard offshore wind turbines mounted on the seafloor.
In May 2018, the U.S. Navy complicated matters even further, stating that vast swaths of California coastline — including all of Southern California — should be off-limits to wind farms because the Navy needs that space for national defense purposes, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Navy cannot decide where wind farms will be deployed, but it has considerable influence.
Perhaps the best news for the Pacific comes from the coast of Scotland, where the first floating platform offshore wind farm is up and running. That wind farm is proving to be remarkably energy efficient, using up to 65% of its capacity factor, which is far better than land-based gas and coal power, according to Greentech Media. Capacity factor estimates a powerplant’s output as a percentage of its theoretical full energy output.
With the cost of developing offshore wind farms falling rapidly and floating platforms showing promise, power from the Pacific might be closer to reality than many observers suspect.
A wind farm project in the works near our home base in Cleveland will test the viability of the Great Lakes, which have ample wind, high population densities, and relatively shallow water.
The Icebreaker project plans to deploy six turbines in Lake Erie about 8-10 miles northwest of Cleveland. Supporters hope this pilot project becomes a catalyst for further development throughout the Great Lakes.
Offshore wind is coming to U.S. shores
Many coastal states have ambitious renewable-energy goals that will require the development offshore wind because there’s only so much they can do with solar, land-based wind, and biofuels. Fortunately, they can benefit from decades of European experience in offshore wind combined with steep declines in development costs.
U.S. wind projects also raise the prospect of bringing good-paying jobs and economic development to communities that need a boost after declines in their manufacturing base.
As a manufacturer of premium cable accessories for offshore wind and other marine-energy projects, PMI is doing its part to support the industry and help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. We believe the United States is ready for offshore wind, and judging from the volume of new projects in the pipeline, we’re not alone in that assessment.
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.
The corrosive effects of saltwater on subsea cables and accessories are well known.
Freshwater doesn’t have quite the same impact, but it still raises a range of issues for offshore wind developers. The saltwater vs. freshwater comparisons are becoming more relevant as offshore windfarm projects along the Great Lakes of North America — the largest expanse of freshwater on Earth — inch closer to reality.
Why the Great Lakes? Anybody who ever felt a summer gust from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Loop or an icy blast from Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland understands. The vast open spaces of the Great Lakes allow strong Midwest winds to blow unimpeded.
Is it only a matter of time until the windfarms dotting the plains of North America extend to the Great Lakes? Perhaps, provided developers can apply the lessons of saltwater windfarms to the distinct needs of freshwater environments.
Saltwater challenges for subsea cables and accessories
Saltwater environments have specific impacts on subsea cables and accessories:
- Oxidation: Saltwater can corrode the surface of any metal. Carbon steel, for instance, is strong and cost-effective, but requires treatment to resist oxidation.
- Anodic corrosion: Because saltwater is an electrolyte, it triggers an electrochemical process at the contact points of dissimilar metals, such as cooper, magnesium, and carbon steel, that leads to corrosion.
- Live current: Subsea cables carrying current can generate electromagnetic fields of varying magnitudes. When the flow of water is perpendicular to the axis of the cable, the magnetic field begins interacting with seawater, or a charged object. There are variables which impact the intensity of the field which in turn impacts the amount of damage that can occur. Depending on the speed of saltwater passing over the cable, the diameter of the cable, and the amount of current, some high-velocity tidal areas can cause corrosion.
- Aquatic species: Barnacles, in particular, attach themselves to everything that goes in seawater. Once they attach themselves, they are extremely difficult to remove.
Freshwater challenges for subsea cables and offshore wind projects
Though freshwater is not nearly as corrosive as saltwater, it can be problematic in three ways:
- Ice: Each year, a significant portion of the Great Lakes is covered with ice, which complicates the construction offshore wind projects. During the winter of 2013-2014, 92% of the Great Lakes were frozen over. Companies in Scandinavia have figured out how to build towers in lakes that freeze, so ice need not be a deal-breaker in the Great Lakes.
- Pollution or foreign substances: Pollutants are wildcards in the construction of windfarms because it’s difficult to predict future pollution levels. Thus, engineering subsea cables and accessories to resist the impact of pollutants is imperfect at best.
- Human uses: The Great Lakes are busy shipping routes and recreational areas, and any offshore wind farm project would have to keep those factors in mind. Ships hauling goods and raw materials could potentially damage or threaten the electrical cables from freshwater windfarms. Boundaries would also have to be set up to prevent contact with boats and the people in them.
The power is there — the question is how we use it
The winds over the Great Lakes average 16 mph, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. And governing bodies along the U.S. side of the Great Lakes are looking toward a future that includes windfarms, the Sierra Club notes on its website.
We mention these advocacy groups because they cautiously support windfarm development in the Great Lakes. Offshore windfarms attract well-deserved environmental scrutiny, but they still represent sources of clean, renewable energy sources for densely populated areas. The continued support of environmental groups will be key to the rise of offshore wind in the Great Lakes.
Power draw makes a case too. Summer months require more energy for climate control which can cause major outages when the grid is not prepared. Having an additional energy supplement will help prevent outages and make grids more reliable.
As we’ve noted many times in our blog, PMI is committed to supplying the rugged, long-lasting subsea cable accessories that windfarms need to defend their power lines against the subsea dangers.
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.
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.
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.
The first U.S. offshore wind farm is expected to go online by the end of 2016, ushering in what could be a new era of renewable energy in the United States.
This is welcome news in a nation where land-based wind power has exploded over the past two decades, installing nearly 50,000 wind turbines that provide clean energy across the continent. Can the same spirit of innovation that made U.S. land-based wind power a world leader be applied to offshore power?
We’d like to think so, but, admittedly, there is a long way to go. The new Block Island Wind Farm is barely a blip on the nation’s energy map — powering just 17,000 households in a nation of 325 million people.
Completed in August at a cost of $290 million, the Block Island Wind Farm consists of five turbines towering over the waters of the Atlantic Coast south of Rhode Island. It might not sound like much in an age where thousands of offshore wind turbines pump carbon-free electricity to Germany, the U.K. and other European nations.
But it’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of the U.S. finally dipping its toes in the water, so to speak, of offshore wind. An abundance of caution on American shores had thwarted every previous offshore wind project. Now that offshore wind technology is mature thanks to a couple decades of European development, the U.S. is poised to reap the benefits of potentially cheaper offshore wind power.
This helps explain why several states along the Eastern Seaboard are embracing offshore wind power:
- The governor of Massachusetts approved a program in August allowing up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind projects in the next decade.
- New York approved a plan in August that says renewable power sources (wind, solar, etc.) must account for half of the state’s energy output in 2030. In September, the state released a blueprint for an offshore wind master plan to be completed in 2017.
- At the University of Maine, researchers are working with federal grants from the Department of Energy to develop prototypes of floating wind-farm platforms that can overcome many of the challenges associated with fixed offshore wind turbines. A French defense firm that’s moving into the renewables sector also has joined the project.
Projects on the drawing boards could add nearly 5 gigawatts of offshore wind power in the United States — a mere fraction of the estimated 4,200 gigawatts of energy that could be generated in the domestic waters of the United States.
Any offshore wind projects will have to overcome substantial regulatory and financial hurdles before any electricity starts streaming back to the mainland. But it’s worth the effort.
Why offshore wind is crucial to the U.S. energy equation
Offshore wind technology is more expensive to install and maintain than its land-based counterparts. But ocean breezes are stronger and more consistent than the wind passing over land, which creates the potential for much more efficient wind-energy operations installed offshore.
In effect we can conceivably pull more power from fewer turbines if offshore wind technology matures. Installing and maintaining these towers will require substantial expertise, which could produce a lot of steady jobs for coastal communities.
Meanwhile, the U.S. fracking boom that has done so much for the nature’s energy posture — lowering gas and oil costs and reducing the dominance of OPEC — remains politically controversial. If the public tide were to turn against fracking, we could see renewed pressure to tap green-energy sources like offshore wind.
Embracing the power of our oceans
At PMI, we’re strong believers in the potential of marine energy technologies because we’ve been providing rugged cable accessories to offshore industries for decades. To be viable, offshore wind farms must be able to cope with ever-present threats to subsea power cables that transmit electricity back to the mainland. Our cable terminations, cable protection and splices are built to withstand the worst our oceans can deal out, so naturally we’re embracing the potential of offshore wind.
The oceans alone won’t fix all of America’s energy problems, of course. But they should be part of the solution.