Offshore wind in 2050: robotic inspections, 200m blades and multiple rotors

Offshore wind could meet a third of the UK’s electricity demand within 12 years due to pioneering designs and mature storage technology, according to predictions published today by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult.
Based on the Catapult’s current research and design taking place in the UK, the Catapult concept for the future shows how the wind farms of 2030, 2040 and 2050 will differ from today.
Stephen Wyatt, research and innovation Director at ORE Catapult, said: “Our projection is based on research taking place in the UK right now – and importantly gaining traction across the world as exciting new approaches to generating clean, abundant energy from offshore wind start to emerge.

The ORE Catapult’s predictions

ORE Catapult predicts that by 2030, floating wind farms will become the norm, with significantly larger turbines generating over 15MW of energy, compared to the 7MW drivetrains today. Blades themselves will be larger, but novel materials will reduce the cost of the repairs and maintenance. ACT Blade, in Edinburgh, is leading in this field, using techniques borrowed from creating ultra-efficient sails from racing yachts to engineer textile blades.
Drones and AI-driven monitoring systems will be commonplace, with Glasgow-based Wideblue’s internal blade inspection system, autonomous drones from Perceptual Robotics, Bristol, and Darlington’s Modus Seabed Intervention’s Automated Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and docking station meaning basic sub-sea repairs and maintenance can be carried out without human intervention. Rovco’s AI-driven 3D vision-based underwater survey solution is another example, with the Bristol company saying their tech could potentially save hundreds of millions on offshore inspections every year.
Drones won’t be the only robots swarming over offshore turbines. Soon to be tested on real turbines at ORE Catapult’s testing facilities in Blyth, Bladebug is both the name of this London micro-SME and its innovative blade crawler. This robotic crawler could significantly reduce the cost and risk of blade maintenance activities – and can operate even when the wind is too strong for flying drones.
Storage solutions being developed in the UK, such as Statoil’s BatWind technology will end intermittency issues inherent with existing wind power technology and ensure every ounce of renewable energy harnessed from the wind is used.
By 2040, turbines will be accompanied with a new type of technology. There will be extensive roll out of a floating kite power generator, such as that being developed by KPS (Kite Power Systems Ltd) in Glasgow, which uses a wing as a kite to harness power in a wider swept area than turbines can. Because the kites are lightweight, the systems use less material than conventional wind technology so produce energy at a lower cost.
“KPS is currently developing a 500kW product that will be on the market in the early 2020s,” says Simon Heyes, chief exectuive at KPS.  “Our vision has always been that this technology will have a significant impact on global deepwater wind at utility scale”. 
Turbines will take on a new look, with designs moving from the single-rotor designs we see today to arrays of multiple rotors on a single structure, drastically reducing installation and maintenance costs – as well as generating up to 20MW using small 500kW turbines.
And those turbines will even benefit from even cheaper generators. Expensive rare-earth magnets will be replaced by cheap, abundantly available ferrite magnets thanks to an innovative generator developed by Essex’s GreenSpur Renewables. 
Robotic inspections, meanwhile, will become entirely autonomous, with advanced Artificial Intelligence making basic maintenance and repair operations cheaper than ever and Rovco expect to be offering fully autonomous unmanned survey solutions.
Wind turbines will continue to grow in size, with 200m blades being the norm in single-rotor designs. Because of their size, these blades will use an entirely new construction method, with flexible blade structures used to reduce the likelihood of breakage. Secondary rotors could start to be used on the tip of blades – where because of their high speed they will generate even more power from every gust.
Vertical axis turbines, still in their infancy, will start to address the challenges current designs pose in weight, with larger traditional blades becoming less feasible on a tower structure. These vertical axis blades will have numerous other benefits, such as being able to generate power no matter which direction the wind is blowing in.
This technology will benefit from the MagLev technology currently used for metro trains in Japan. Used in tandem with vertical axis turbines, this will reduce the friction between the turbine and the blade to zero, allowing greater yield by allowing generation with even less wind.
The rise of the robots will continue with the introduction of the Mothership. These are fully autonomous boats that can transfer crew to turbines as well as more advanced robots and drones, acting both as a charging station and data-hub. These will allow for even more complex tasks and repairs to be carried out than ever before.



1 comment for “Offshore wind in 2050: robotic inspections, 200m blades and multiple rotors

  1. February 28, 2018 at 12:48 PM

    We use 357 TWh p.a. so a third of that is 119 TWh.

    950 MW, Moray East Offshore Windfarm [MEOW] employing the very latest 9.5 MW wind turbines and costing £1,800 million will have an average cf over its 25 year lifespan of 31.25% and will generate 2.6 TWh of intermittent electricity p.a.. 45.75 MEOWS would be needed to generate 119 TWh at a total cost of £82,365 million.

    By comparison, 3,200 MW, Hinkley Point C [HPC] nuclear power plant, the most expensive form of npp by some 20%, will operate at a capacity factor of 90% over its 60 year design life. For a cost of £18,000 million, it will generate 25.2 TWh of 24/7 electricity p.a., so 4.72 HPCs would be needed at a total cost of £84,903 million.

    But that’s not the end of the story, because those 45.75 MEOWs would have to be built a 2nd time and be 10 years into their 3rd build to deliver their intermittent electricity for the 60 year life of a npp.

    That’s a factor of X2.4 and a total cost of £197,676 million.

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