A RESEARCH platform for measuring wind speed and observing sea conditions has this week been installed as part of a pioneering £300m research and development project for the offshore wind industry in the sea off Northumberland.
The National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) has erected the offshore anemometry hub three nautical miles off the coast of Blyth, close to the site of 15 proposed giant wind turbines.
The platform is fitted with the latest technologies for measuring wind resource, observing marine conditions and collecting marine life data. At a height of 103m above sea level, its meteorological mast is among the tallest planned for offshore wind in the UK.
The data collected from this instrument will validate conditions on the proposed demonstration site for the world’s next generation of super-powerful turbines.
Andrew Mill, chief executive at Narec, said: “The installation represents a significant step forward in the realisation of the demonstration project, which has been designed to enable the commercialisation of the next generation of offshore wind turbines and their associated structures and electrical network equipment.
“This is the right time for manufacturers to provide assurance to investors in the sector by building up operating hours on their new designs in a realistic offshore environment.”
The platform has been designed for a 22-year life and its installation on a tripod structure at 37m water depth follows the approach being taken for the installation of wind turbines in deep waters.
As well as providing a benchmark for tenants to monitor the performance of turbines on the Blyth demonstration site, it provides an open-access research facility for major offshore wind companies to trial new technologies.
Mill added: “To reduce the future costs of upscaling offshore wind requires innovation through the whole process of design, manufacture, installation and operation of wind farms, particularly as we go into deeper water farther out at sea.
“Our North Sea demonstration site provides a microcosm of the environment in which the majority of UK Round 3 Sites will be built out in. We are providing a shop window in water depths ranging between 35m and 58m for tenants to prove the performance and durability of larger prototypes and early-series production models.”
Tony Quinn, operations director at Narec, added: “The successful delivery and installation of the platform has required a concerted effort from all parties across the supply chain, including client team, stakeholders, professional advisers and contractors.
“While this has necessitated a degree of commitment and dedication over and above the norm, it illustrates what can be achieved when a common aim is shared.”
The Blyth Offshore Demonstration Project has been developed with an £18.5m grant from the Government and an additional £4.35m from former regional development agency One North East, to bring the total available funding to £22.85m.
Narec used a large portion of the available funding to design, build and install the anemometry hub. It contracted engineers SeaRoc to install the facility.
Toby Mead, operations director at SeaRoc, said: “I am very proud of my team. We developed a solution focused on risk mitigation and the installation was successfully completed to a compressed schedule, with zero incidents and accidents.
“The importance of getting the installation correct for the platform to be operational by the end of November 2012 was the key driver for SeaRoc.
“This has been a challenging project and it has allowed us to grow our construction business further with a focus on niche installations that require a range of disciplines and offshore project management experiences.”
Construction and management consultancy Turner & Townsend is delivering project, programme and cost services for Narec’s overall capital build programme.
Project director John Laverick said: “Our great challenge with this project was to bring together different sector disciplines and expertise in both onshore and offshore aspects, from design and on-shore fabrication to working with specialists, including SeaRoc and MPI, to complete the installation.
“It is very satisfying to finally see the platform installed and I would like to thank all those who have contributed to achieving this feat.”
In May, Narec launched a procurement process to identify industry partners to collaborate on the build out of the 100mw Blyth Offshore Demonstration Project.
The opportunity was advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union as three lots, each lot comprising an array of five pods.
Narec submitted an application for the necessary Marine Management Organisation approval in March of this year for permission to go ahead and construct the development.
The application process is expected to be complete by the end of the year and it is hoped that preparatory work on the construction phase will start in summer 2013.
The 15 turbines, which will be connected to the grid but will not operate as a commercial wind farm, will be built one kilometre apart and in water depths of between 35 metres and 60 metres.