ORE Catapult, UIUC Team Up on Floating Wind Challenges

Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult has partnered with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to support the development of the US floating offshore wind sector.

According to ORE Catapult, the floating wind will likely be a primary source of US offshore wind capacity in the coming decades as much of their estimated 2,000 GW capacity lies in deeper water sites that are unsuitable for conventional, fixed-bottom turbines. One of the core challenges is the development of an infrastructure that will be suitable for connecting floating wind turbines to US electrical power grids. 

The partners will explore the best configurations for direct current transmission in US waters, the company said.

The project is funded by the US Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and Innovate UK, and with support from the Energy Systems Catapult.

As disclosed, the project aims to create turbine and sector blueprints, map the transatlantic supply chain, and lay the groundwork for offshore grid network designs.

“More offshore wind developers are exploring the use of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission on the sites that are further away from the shore. Despite the effectiveness of current offshore HVDC systems, they generally require building huge offshore sub-stations that can be as big as the size of football stadiums,” commented Michael Smailes, lead engineer on the project at ORE Catapult.

Smailes said that the company will be looking at scenarios for medium-voltage direct current (MVDC) collection grids across a range of voltage levels which offers an untested solution for minimising the size of infrastructure needed.

Arijit Banerjee, a faculty member in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UIUC, will serve as the principal investigator leading the effort from the US.

“Over the past few years, we have focused primarily on creating power harvesting architectures attractive for the offshore environment. ARPA-E’s support through its OPEN 2018 was crucial to help us reach a stage where we can build a 200-kW prototype of our proposed architecture. This collaboration gives us a new opportunity to look at solutions from a system-level perspective—from the generator to the grid.” commented Banerjee.

In 2019, ARPA-E created the Aerodynamic Turbines, Lighter and Afloat, with Nautical Technologies and Integrated Servo-control (ATLANTIS) program to radically design new floating offshore wind turbine technology.

“ARPA-E created the ATLANTIS program to drive forward floating offshore wind turbine technology. Innovate UK and ARPA-E understand that floating wind turbines have the potential to increase the affordability and reliability of wind energy so we can capture more of this emissions-free, renewable energy resource,” said Dr Mario Garcia-Sanz, ARPA-E program director.

The UK is one of the countries vying to lead development of floating wind technologies. ORE Catapult estimates that its own floating wind supply chain could capture GBP 2.3 billion (approximately EUR 2.7 billion) per year between 2031 and 2050.

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Chong Ng, Head of Applied Research at ORE Catapult added: “We have one of the most ambitious targets in the world for floating offshore wind in the UK with a hotbed of innovation in this area. This new collaboration opens up a route to the future US market for our innovative technologies.”

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Photo: Illustration; Block Island Wind Farm; Photo source: CRMC (archive)