Ship on Rally car suspension could help solve £3bn challenge to access offshore wind turbines

A boat with suspension, a giant robotic arm and a vessel resembling a seahorse are just three of the innovative concepts shortlisted by the Carbon Trust as part of a competition to solve the problem of transferring engineers and equipment safely on to wind turbines as far as 300km offshore in wave heights up to around three metres. The project aims to improve the economics of offshore wind by keeping turbines generating electricity in the harshest sea conditions to increase revenues by as much as £3bn for the next generation of the UK's offshore wind farms.

Through its Offshore Wind Accelerator programme, the Carbon Trust is leading an industry collaboration of eight UK wind farm developers - E.ON, DONG Energy, Mainstream Renewable Power, RWE Innogy, ScottishPower Renewables, SSE Renewables, Statkraft and Statoil - to dramatically reduce the costs of offshore wind.

A technically rigorous process was used by the co-funded industry collaboration to select 13 designs from 450 submissions. The technical merit of these 13 concepts suggests they have the best chances of successfully driving down cost.

Today's offshore wind farms are typically less than 25km offshore in relatively benign sea conditions, and consist of up to 100 turbines. Maintenance is possible in boats about 90% of the time when wave heights are up to about 1.5m. The new 'round three' offshore wind projects will be as far as 300km offshore in rougher sea conditions, and may consist of as many as 2,500 turbines. At these sites, today's access systems would only allow transfers about 210 days a year. The aim of the competition is to find concepts that can be commercialised to make transfers possible for a minimum of 300 days a year.

Among the 13 designs shortlisted are a giant robotic arm for transferring engineers and equipment to the turbine base; a boat that uses suspension inspired by Paris Dakar-winning rally cars to remain stable for the transfer; a 'seahorse' vessel consisting of a towering keel that minimises movements in the ocean swell; and a giant harbour mother ship that would act as a base for engineers for weeks on end, dispatching smaller daughter craft to access the turbines.

Technologies developed for sectors as diverse as the navy, industrial manufacturing, motorsport, diving and ship maintenance are now being adapted to the harsh conditions of the North Sea. The designers range from a university student to established offshore wind maintenance vessel operators, and come from the UK, Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Canada and Australia.

We've trawled the globe looking for revolutionary new ideas that can transfer engineers safely in the huge swells around the UK's coasts. People have been building boats for thousands of years, but we've seen some truly radical departures from what you would think a boat should look like. These designs could significantly improve the economics of offshore wind and keep our engineers safe far out to sea. Our analysis shows offshore wind is a huge green growth opportunity which could create up to 230,000 jobs in the UK by 2050.

- Benj Sykes, Director of Innovation at the Carbon Trust

The UK is leading the world in offshore wind power generation which is creating a huge market here in design, innovation and new technology. These projects represent some of the best ideas to overcome the challenges of working in deeper water to create a cleaner, more cost effective power supply for the future and a greener economy in the UK.

- Greg Barker, Climate Change Minister


The competition aims to increase turbine availability by 4% through the development of these new technologies. This in turn could cut turbine down-time, saving £3bn of lost generating revenue over the lifetime of Round 3 wind farms, and help to reduce the levelised cost of offshore wind. This improvement in availability would also save an extra 1.3 Mt CO2 per year.

The global market opportunity for these wind turbine access solutions is estimated to be worth over £2bn by 2020 and according to Carbon Trust research, the UK market alone could account for up to fifty per cent of that.

Each of the successful applicants to the competition will benefit from funding of up to £100,000 to support the design and development of their concept, as well as technical support from the eight developers in the Offshore Wind Accelerator. The competition has selected the following thirteen designs, in three categories, to receive funding:

  • Transfer systems - To transfer personnel and equipment from vessel to turbine, potentially with motion-compensation
    • Autobrow, South Boats
    • MOTS, Momac GmBH
    • Wind Bridge, Knud Hansen
    • TAS2, BMT Nigel Gee / Houlder
  • Vessels - Vessels for transporting personnel and equipment from permanent bases or mother ships to turbines, incorporating a transfer system
    • Pivoting Deck Vessel, North Sea Logistics
    • Nauti-Craft, Nauti-Craft
    • Fjellstrand Vessel, Fjellstrand
    • SES Vessel, Umoe Mandal
    • SolidSea, University of Strathclyde
    • TranSPAR, Extreme Ocean Innovation
  • Launch and recovery systems - Systems fitted to the permanent bases or mother ships for launching and recovering daughter craft from the sea.
    • Launch & Recovery, Offshore Kinetics
    • Z Port, Z Technologies
    • Launch And Recovery System, Divex


With nearly 200 turbines already operating offshore E.ON knows first-hand how important safe access is. The innovative concepts proposed will not only help keep our engineers safe but also help to reduce the down time needed for essential maintenance.

- Jörgen Bodin, Head of R&D and Innovation, E.ON Climate & Renewables

As Europe's leading generator of renewable energy, and a major investor in offshore wind power, we are pleased to see so many new ideas for improving accessibility at far offshore sites. Statkraft is committed to a long term industrial role within offshore wind power and we are keen to see further development of some of the most promising ideas.

- Olav Hetland, Senior Vice President Offshore Wind Power, Statkraft

ScottishPower Renewables agree that there is significant potential to improve access systems for offshore windfarms and thereby increase the cost-effectiveness of offshore wind. The OWA access system competition will help develop optimum systems which will boost our ambitions to make offshore wind a major contributor to UK energy supplies.

- Alan Mortimer, Head of Renewables Policy, ScottishPower Renewables

It's great to see such a range of designers shortlisted in the competition. They've all really used their imagination and given us a shortlist inspired by racing cars, robots and sea creatures. DONG Energy has over a gigawatt of offshore wind energy operating or under development in the UK so it's essential for us to support initiatives like this that aim to bring down the costs and help with the continued industrialisation of offshore wind.

- Jesper K Holst, Head of UK Project Development, DONG Energy

The Carbon Trust released analysis earlier this year showing that that the global offshore wind sector is set to grow by up to 10 per cent per year with the UK expected to capture around a 10% share of this market, which is estimated to be worth up to £170bn/year by 2050. The new data also concludes that offshore wind could create up to 230,000 jobs in the UK by 2050. Exports from the UK offer significant growth potential, generating up to 80 per cent of total jobs out to 2050.


For further information

For more information and to speak to a Carbon Trust spokesperson, please contact the Carbon Trust press office:
Tel no: 020 7170 7050

More about the OWA Access competition

DNV (Det Norske Veritas) is the Technical Delivery Consultant for the Access Competition and provides technical advice.

The Competition was supported by The Royal Institute of Naval Architects (RINA), The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) and The Society of Maritime Industries.

About the Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust is a not-for-profit company with the mission to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy, providing specialist support to business and the public sector to help cut carbon emissions, save energy and commercialise low carbon technologies. By stimulating low carbon action we contribute to key UK goals of lower carbon emissions, the development of low carbon businesses, increased energy security and associated jobs.

We help to cut carbon emissions now by

  • Providing specialist advice and finance to help organisations cut carbon
  • Setting standards for carbon reduction

We reduce potential future carbon emissions by

  • Opening markets for low carbon technologies
  • Leading industry collaborations to commercialise technologies
  • Investing in early stage low carbon companies