As anyone who works in the offshore wind sector will know, there are a number of challenges not only to getting a wind farm project off the ground, but to then maintain them and ensure they operate safely.
Offshore environments can be hazardous for various reasons and with wind farms, one of the main difficulties arises from inspecting the parts of the structure that are below the waterline.
In a bid to help make this a safer and more effective process, the Carbon Trust’s Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) has launched a competition to encourage engineers, scientists and others to work together to find new ways of carrying out subsea inspections on turbines.
The OWA is hoping to encourage innovations in inspection technology that can specifically provide data about grout integrity and welds for monopoles and jackets.
The competition is open to any innovators in inspection technology, the OWA stated, adding that the winner will be given the opportunity to test their technology on installed and fully operational wind farms in Europe.
Mentoring and advice will also be provided by the nine partners who make up the OWA, and who collectively represent more than three-quarters of the European offshore wind energy market.
Project manager for the foundations research area Michael Stephenson explained that one of the OWA’s main objectives is to lower the cost of offshore wind. He added that they are hoping this competition “can find the next generation of inspection technologies to help the industry continue to drive down prices”.
Of course, improving inspection technology will also improve safety, not only for those working in offshore wind environments regularly, but also those who come to undertake maintenance and ensure they are stable and safe to operate.
The OWA explained that because many of the offshore wind turbines are relatively new, there is little data available on how certain aspects of their construction deteriorate in a marine environment.
According to its research, there were over 3,500 turbines installed in Europe as of January 2017 and 80 per cent of these are monopole structures with grouted joints.
The organisation estimates that 35 to 40 per cent of these monopole structures have been affected by grout-related issues, such as corrosion caused by the marine environment. Jackets are new designs that use welded nodes rather than grouted joints, but the OWA added that these will pose “new inspection challenges”.
Collaboration within the industry to search for new technology is a step in the right direction, but a report published recently by researchers at ETH Zurich and Imperial College London suggested that European countries should also work together to ensure the consistency of output from this renewable power source.
By planning renewable energy development across the continent to make the most of optimal weather conditions, energy security and consistency could be improved, the research asserted.
Balancing capacity across Europe would “minimise the extreme fluctuations caused by the varied weather conditions that currently affect wind speeds”, the organisation concluded.
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