Newcastle University has teamed up with leading engineering company Siemens for a cutting-edge research and development project that could have wide-ranging implications for the UK’s growing offshore energy industry.
As preparations begin for the Crown Estate’s offshore wind Round 3 programme, a team from the firm’s Hebburn and Manchester sites is looking at challenges posed by the much greater scale of future operations, in which platforms potentially over 30m in height and ten tonnes in weight will need to be transported far out into the North Sea.
One method of doing so is known as ‘float over’, whereby the topside of the structure, housing crucial technology, is carried out to sea on a barge and connected with a pre-installed ‘jacket’.
Using a scale model and wave tank, the university is trying to find out if computer models match the reality, with the ultimate aim of finding a practical solution while reducing risk as far as possible.
“This is very significant for Newcastle University,” said Peter Bowes, facilities manager at the School of Marine Science Technology.
“This is leading-edge in terms of taking these structures out to the North Sea, which is a fresh challenge.
“We pride ourselves in the programmes we offer and our graduate employment statistics are fantastic.
“But we can only be fantastic if the teaching is applied to industry in this way.”
By 2020, the UK is aiming for a 20% reduction in carbon emissions, fuelling an ambitious programme of offshore wind generation development, in which Siemens is playing a vital role. In round 3, companies will be expected to provide up to 40GW of wind generation in locations typically more than 80km offshore.
The research, which is being supported by funding from the National Renewable Energy Centre, Narec, following its successful second round Regional Growth Fund (RGF) Wind Innovation Programme bid, has seen the creation of a one-in-40 scale model of the platform topside, jacket and barge, all of which have submerged in the university’s wave tank.
Measurements and weights have been carefully replicated to give a realistic picture of how the structure would react at sea and researchers can monitor numerous variables as wave frequency and amplitude are altered.
The results of have yet to be analysed. However, Bowes said the pattern emerging was that so long as the topside of the platform was at least partially secured, the operation would be plain sailing, so to speak.
It was only when it was loosened that things became “interesting”, meaning the final stage of the process, in which the barge is removed, could prove the most challenging.
However, more work would be done to see if the installation can be carried out in a longer “weather window” than has historically been the case.