Offshore Renewables – From Innovation To Commercialization

The UK’s Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult is driving innovation in offshore wind, wave and tidal energy.
Published: Wed 09 Dec 2015

Offshore wind is fast gaining ground as the latest frontier for renewables development, with large capacity availabilities but without the siting problems of onshore developments.

As a pioneer in offshore wind development, the UK believes there is potential for innovation with resultant economic benefits. [Engerati-Offshore Windfarms Set To Reach New Levels] In order to harness this potential, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult has been formed as one of 10 Catapults to date – and the first in the energy sector – that are aimed to support industry in moving innovation through to commercialization. The second in the sector, and one of the latest to be formed, is the Energy Systems Catapult. [Engerati-Energy Systems To Get Catapulted]

Offshore renewables challenges

In an exclusive interview, Andy Macdonald, Senior Innovation Manager at ORE Catapult, told Engerati that the organization’s primary focus is on wind energy but it also encompasses others forms of offshore energy such as wave and tidal stream energy.

The main challenge for offshore renewables, and particularly offshore wind, which with over 5GW of installed capacity in UK waters is demonstrated as an effective technology, is cost reduction to become competitive with other forms of low carbon energy.

One of the primary ways to achieve this is to scale up the technology, he says. “Going big is at the forefront of what we are doing. Going from a 3MW to a 6MW turbine saves per MW construction and installation costs and saves O&M costs.”

However, he adds it also brings further challenges with a knock-on effect to the rest of supply chain. “For example, vessels need to be able to handle the larger size of turbines and have the lifting capability to install them. So while it might be feasible to build a larger turbine we also need to look at the supply chain to ensure it is feasible.”

On the other hand, with wave energy technology the primary challenge is to step up the performance rather than focus just on technology readiness, Mr Macdonald comments. Suggesting that the industry has suffered from trying to go too large too quickly, he points to the need for more modelling and small-scale tank testing to gain better understanding of performance before scaling up.

The electrical architecture is also an important component of wave energy technologies, potentially costing as much as the device itself.

Supported by industry

Mr Macdonald says that the Catapult’s budget is currently running at approximately £10 million per year of grant funding from the UK government, with an aim of achieving match funding from the industry or through joint projects supported from other sources such as the EU’s Horizon 2020 scheme. Specifically the aim is to secure at least one third of the budget from industry through working on commercial, collaborative and advisory projects.

“If industry is prepared to pay we see that as the best test of the value we can add,” he says.

Mr Macdonald points to two major initiatives that have been introduced for the industry. Project SPARTA (System Performance, Availability and Reliability Trend Analysis), aimed at improving wind turbine operational performance, collates performance and maintenance data from operators. As this data is highly commercially sensitive it is then anonymized and shared back so that the operators can benchmark themselves and see where they can improve their performance.

The second is a Cost Reduction Monitoring Framework on behalf of the UK’s Offshore Wind Programme Board, which encompasses more than 60 indicators covering potential cost reductions that have been identified for the sector. With this framework potential project activities can be identified that will ensure the cost reductions are achieved.

Offshore renewables testing

Another key function of the ORE Catapult is testing, and the National Renewable Energy Centre on the Blyth Estuary in Northumberland presents potentially the largest concentration of certified offshore renewable testing assets in the world, says Mr Macdonald.

Among these are the facilities to test 50m and 100m blades and a 3MW tidal turbine powertrain test facility.

“As the scale of offshore wind increases, blades need to get bigger but structural issues can arise and improvements need to be made to the materials to keep the weight down while maintaining the strength,” he says.

A new addition to the Catapult’s test facilities is a Samsung 7MW turbine which is installed at Levenmouth in Scotland – and with a blade tip 196m above sea level, it was when constructed the world’s largest offshore wind turbine.

“A big obstacle to innovation is access to demonstration sites and there are only a limited number in the world. As the largest open access turbine dedicated to research and close to the shore, we expect it to be a game-changer in proving the next generation of offshore wind technology.”