The Carbon Trust has launched a global competition to find a safe way to transfer men and machinery to wind farms as far as 300km offshore.
And if such a safety solution can be found, the trust estimates it could unlock £3bn worth of revenue for the UK.
Most wind farms are less than 20km out to sea in relatively benign conditions. But if this 20km barrier can be broken, high winds further out to sea could generate massive amounts of electricity. Currently, the furthest offshore farm is a small testing site 100km off Germany.
However, turbines require planned and unplanned maintenance during the year, and this is performed by personnel who step off boats on to ladders on the side of the turbines. Conditions in future wind farms may be so rough that, according to the trust, transfers may only be possible 160 days a year.
The competition’s purpose is to find talent that will solve this problem and therefore increase operational days as well as more energy.
Phillip De Villiers, offshore wind accelerator manager at the Carbon Trust, told ELN: “It’s important the UK gets access to wind energy. If the idea comes from a man in a shed, then that’s fine for us.”
The competition is part of the Carbon Trust’s Offshore Wind Accelerator, a major industry collaboration with eight leading energy companies – DONG Energy, E.ON, Mainstream Renewable Power, RWE Innogy, ScottishPower Renewables, SSE Renewables, Statkraft and Statoil. The eight developers will provide two thirds of funding for the winners, with the Carbon Trust stumping up the rest.
Energy minister Charles Hendry said: “As developers seek to get wind turbines into deeper waters, where the wind blows more wildly and the waves are stronger, it is vital that access and safety are maximised and costs minimised.”
In the UK, a site acknowledged as having prime wind farm potential is the Dogger Bank zone in the North Sea, located between 125km and 290km off the Yorkshire coast. Relatively shallow water depths ranging from 18-63 metres make it ideal for installing turbines. Most other potential UK turbine locations are in the North Sea, with others in the English Channel, around the Isle of Wight and the Irish Sea.
The competition has so far generated interest from all over the world. Entrants from the US, Europe and China have all registered and have included launch and recovery vessels widely used in navies and oil and gas platforms.