Carbon Trust reveals new designs to transform offshore wind industry

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Radical new designs shortlisted in a global competition run by the UK's Carbon Trust

Radical new designs shortlisted in a global competition run by the UK’s Carbon Trust are set to accelerate the installation of thousands of wind turbines around Britain’s coast by slashing the costs of construction and opening up deeper waters for development.

Over 100 engineering companies from around the world submitted their ideas on how to cost effectively build offshore wind turbines in severe weather conditions as far as 100 miles out to sea and in waters up to 60m deep. Each design was rigorously assessed by an expert panel of judges including the Carbon Trust’s partners: Airtricity Developments, DONG Energy, RWE Innogy owner of Npower Renewables, Scottish Power Renewables and Statoil.

The seven new foundation designs unveiled today have the potential to revolutionise the construction of offshore wind farms, reducing costs and overcoming engineering challenges currently facing the industry. They provide a glimpse of the future with radical concepts such as floating turbines anchored to the sea bed and spider-like tripod structures.

Lower costs are vital if Britain is to install the 6,000 or so offshore wind turbines needed to ensure offshore wind meets a quarter of our electricity needs by 2020. The current price tag is up to £75bn with deep water foundations accounting for 20% or more of a wind farm’s total project costs. The goal of the new designs is to reduce the current costs of foundations by at least a quarter. This will save billions of pounds and enable the industry to deploy turbines in the much deeper and rougher sea conditions that will be experienced by the significantly larger offshore wind projects beginning in 2012 as part of the Crown Estate’s third round of licensing.

Tom Delay, Chief Executive of the Carbon Trust, said: “Building thousands of turbines offshore to provide a quarter of our power needs is the greatest engineering challenge we face in the coming decade. Without new thinking to cut costs many planned projects could remain on the drawing board putting our carbon targets and energy security at risk. We must urgently re-engineer our energy system and building offshore wind farms while creating onshore jobs must play a central role.”

Latest figures released by the British Wind Energy Association show that UK wind energy has now reached 4GW of installed capacity of which 600MW is offshore, however a continued focus on innovation reliability and cost reduction is vital to deliver the UK’s offshore programme.

The winds blowing off Britain’s coasts are some of the most powerful on the globe and must be harnessed to ensure the UK reaches its target of 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Round 3 presents even more treacherous conditions than any wind farm sites to-date around the UK’s coast, which makes building and operating future wind farms offshore an expensive business.

The prize, however, is substantial: the offshore wind industry is not only vital to meet the 2020 renewable energy target but also has the potential to generate £65 billion of net economic value and some 220,000 jobs for the UK by 2050.

The designs will receive up to £100,000 support for concept development, engineering analysis, commercial feasibility and technical assistance. Of the shortlisted designs revealed today, up to three final winners will have their designs built and installed in large scale demonstration projects in 2010-2012 with funding from a consortium led by the Carbon Trust.

While the UK alone needs more than 6,000 new offshore foundations by 2020, the global number of offshore wind turbines will reach 15,000 or more: a global market for foundations worth up to £2.5bn a year, which shows clear market potential for the winning designs.

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