In 10 years, the Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) has run over 150 projects supporting innovations that have led to both a significant reduction in the cost of energy and risk, whilst making offshore operations safer. To mark this milestone in R&D collaboration, we have selected 10 high impact innovations to showcase the breadth and depth of the programme.
The extraordinary reduction in the cost of offshore wind over the last decade is in part a story about how much more efficient we’ve become at forecasting how much electricity each windfarm produces. Floating LIDAR is one of those innovations, which gives investors much more certainty, and its story is an example of the difference the OWA made to the early, uncertain years in the life of a new technology.
If you’re trying to work out how much energy a new wind farm will generate, you need to know the average wind speed in the area where you’re thinking of building it. The faster the wind, the more electricity you can generate.
If you’re trying to work out how much energy a new wind farm will generate, you need to know the average wind speed in the area where you’re thinking of building it. The faster the wind, the more electricity you can generate. Since financing typically accounts for around 40 per cent of the total cost of the wind farm, getting accurate data can have a significant effect on project costs.
Wind speed is normally measured using a cup anemometer – a device which looks a little like rotating cups on the top of a pole – which spins in the wind and measures its speed. To measure wind speed far offshore, these are placed on top of steel towers, called meteorological masts, or met masts. As these are tall – about 150 metres high – and heavy, they require deep foundations to be installed far out at sea. They need planning permission too. All of this means it was relatively expensive and time-consuming to gather the wind speed data investors needed to assess how risky each project would be.
Floating LIDAR changed that.
LIDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging. Floating LIDARs measure wind speed in a completely different way.
Firstly, instead of a cup anemometer, they use lasers. They send the beams upwards, bounce them off microscopic drops of liquid in the air, then measure how fast they bounce back, providing an estimate of wind speed. This technique is very accurate, which in turn gives investors much more certainty about any given investment. Secondly, they enable wind speed to be measured at different heights to assess the optimum height for the turbine. And thirdly, they are much cheaper to set up. Whereas met masts are heavy and expensive, LIDARs are only slightly taller than an average person. As they float, they can also be transported to the site on a boat, then deployed quickly. Whereas a met mast might cost up to £15 million to deploy, a LIDAR might only cost around £2 to £3 million.
By measuring wind speed more accurately, flexibly, and cheaply, floating LIDAR made offshore wind a significantly safer investment.
But without the OWA, the floating LIDAR would likely have become a missed opportunity.
We developed a roadmap to bring the technology to commercial acceptance. First, we asked banks’ advisers what evidence they would need to accept the wind measurement data from floating LIDAR. We then worked with industry partners and floating LIDAR developers to create a roadmap with clear KPIs to make it happen. We supported five separate trials in the North Sea to demonstrate how well it worked, and convinced a number of offshore wind projects to replace their meteorological masts with floating LIDAR to prove their value in a commercial setting.
The OWA delivered the world’s largest deployment of floating LIDAR trials comprising 5 devices tested at 6 different offshore sites in the North Sea totalling over 40 months of deployments. Through these trials, 4 devices were directly certified as pre-commercial by independent analysis, and 1 had already been validated prior to the trial. This resulted in both building a significant body of evidence that further built confidence in the technology, and also provided developers with a greater choice of floating LIDAR systems validated to pre-commercial stage.
In 2013, the OWA published a seminal document - the Floating LIDAR Roadmap to Commercial Acceptance (PDF). This document, developed in conjunction with banks’ advisers, provided clear guidance on the steps and evidence floating LIDAR suppliers needed to show in order to deem their data bankable. This document was updated in 2018, a mark of how quickly the industry has progressed in a relatively short space of time.
In addition, for several years the OWA has worked closely with the IEA Task 32 working group to develop best practice for the deployment of floating LIDAR systems. Due to the rapid adoption of the technology, the usual body of experience in deployments had not been established by the industry. Therefore, we brought developers, floating LIDAR suppliers, data analysis and other parties together to understand lessons learned and recommended practice for deployment of these systems, to ensure efficient, consistent, safe and effective deployments in a range of offshore conditions.
This article is part of 10 years, 10 innovations: A summary of the impact of the Offshore Wind Accelerator