Tuesday 12 November 2013

America’s first floating wind turbine – the future of offshore power generation?

3 Oct 2013

Sitting in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Maine, is a unique feat of technology. At first glance, this giant windmill-like object looks pretty out of place, bobbing around in the middle of the water. But in truth, the wind-lashed Atlantic is the perfect spot for it. VolturnUS 1:8 (trips off the tongue, doesn't it?!) is North America's first floating wind turbine-an innovation that's being hailed as the future of US offshore energy generation.

Designed by engineers at the University of Maine, the turbine is an impressive piece of equipment. Standing 300 feet tall, "it's almost like a 30 to 35 story building", says Habib Dagher, Director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the university, and head of the VolturnUS 1:8 project.

In addition, the diameter of the rotor is the size of one and a half football fields, while "each blade would be the wingspan of a 747 jetliner". But this doesn't even scratch the surface of what the designers ultimately have in mind...

Channeling the Atlantic's Anger into Power
Right now, the VolturnUS 1:8 turbine can only generate enough energy to power four homes. But it's merely the working prototype for a much larger project. How large? "It's one-eighth the scale of a full-size five-to six-MW turbine", says Elizabeth Viselli, Communications Manager of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

And that would produce enough wind power to power a few thousand homes. The reasoning behind putting these turbines at sea is simple... Winds are much stronger at sea than on land, with the optimum strength occurring during peak energy usage times in the late afternoon/early evening.

In fact, Dagher says, "Within 50 miles of US shores, there's enough offshore [wind] capacity to power the US four times over". And the fact that the University of Maine team has designed a floating turbine means it's significantly cheaper than a fixed installation turbine.

And as for fears that eyesore wind turbines will spoil the coastline... well, fear not. The team says the turbines will be 20 miles offshore-"beyond the horizon" and not visible from the coast. With the United States only generating 3.5% of its electric power from wind, the goal of this project is two-fold... Boost renewable energy output from wind and, according to Dagher, "bring the cost of offshore wind down by 2020, so it's competitive with other forms of electricity".