Nation’s First Offshore Wind Test Lab to Open at University of Maine in October (USA)


The effort to capture wind power more than 40 miles off the Maine coast using massive floating wind turbines continues on schedule – with lab trials at the University of Maine just completed in May, a first-in-the-nation offshore wind test lab opening at the University of Maine in Orono in October and preparations under way for wind turbine sea trials off Monhegan Island in July 2012.

Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center and the man who provides the guiding vision for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine, has helped place Maine solidly in the lead in wind technology research.

On Tuesday morning, Dagher gave an overview of the progress of the floating offshore wind program to engineers, scientists, and marine tradesmen from across the country who were attending the 2011 Energy Ocean International conference, being held in Portland June 14 to June 16.

Dagher said the overall goal of the 20-year project is to provide affordable electricity to the entire state of Maine that is cheaper than the existing rates.

By 2030, the plan calls for producing 5 gigawatts of energy from offshore wind power – an amount that would provide twice as much electricity needed to supply the state, with the surplus to be sold to the New England grid – and create 15,000 jobs.

Existing offshore wind technology has not been able to take advantage of where the ocean winds blow strongest – in deep water. It is a matter of cost. Building a turbine that is fixed to the ocean floor in deep water is difficult and extremely expensive. The AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center team is developing offshore wind turbines that will be placed on floating platforms anchored to the ocean floor, rather than fixed to a structure that is driven into the ocean floor. The result is a reduction in deployment costs by as much as 70 percent, said Dagher.

Floating platform designs that were adapted from oil drilling designs were built at one-fiftieth scale and tested in the wave basin lab at the University of Maine and at an offshore wind basin in the Netherlands this spring.

Andrew Goupee at AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center oversaw the lab trials of the precisely scaled models, which weigh just over six pounds and stand six feet high from the water to the turbine hub. The wind blades are four feet long. The small-scale models underwent wave, wind and water depth testing that modeled extreme ocean conditions, including 300-foot-high waves and winds from multiple directions.

“The objective was to create the world’s most complete, comprehensive data set for scale-model testing of floating offshore wind turbines,” said Goupee.

The data collected during the lab trials showed that deepwater wind turbines can lessen the impact of large waves when the blades are turning. Unlike boats, they don’t get tossed around as much as they ride the wave.

The next step in the process is to refine the design of a one-third scale model turbine and floating platform that will be deployed off Monhegan Island next summer. The one-third scale model will rise 100 feet from the water surface to the hub of the turbine.

Almost ten years of marine data have been collected at Monhegan and other sites, and the Monhegan sea trials will provide additional data that can be used to improve the full-scale design at a much lower cost than deploying a full-scale model. Dagher said it will cost an estimated $10 million for the one-third model, compared to $20 to $50 million to test a full-size floating wind turbine.

Anthony Viselli, the research engineer who is overseeing the Monhegan test site, said that the one-third model design will be complete this August, with the model ready to deploy by July 2012 for four months. It will be manufactured by Cianbro Corporation, with Bath Iron Works, and towed to the site already assembled. During the sea trials, different composite materials will be tested for the turbine, data collection on performance and durability will continue, as will environmental data collection with the aim of developing approaches to test impacts on birds, bats, fish, and bottom dwellers at offshore sites.

The next phase of the project is to establish a pilot wind farm more than 40 miles offshore by 2017, with the goal of generating 12 to 25 megawatts of electricity. By 2020, Dagher said he hopes to expand that site to produce 500 to 1,000 megawatts.

At the same time, efforts are under way at the middle and high school levels in Maine to engage students in engineering and design related to wind power development in order to groom the wind energy workforce of the future.

At the post-secondary level, the University of Maine College of Engineering is launching a satellite engineering degree program at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station starting next year. Students will apply for a four-year program, but be able to take two full years of integrated engineering, math and science courses in Brunswick, then finish their degrees either at the southern Maine or Orono campuses.

By Christine Parrish (freepressonline)


Source: freepressonline, June 17, 2011; Image: patapsco