The coast of Cornwall, UK could become home to a pioneering "floating wind farm" as part of a £25 million project to link into the world's largest wave energy test site and pave the way for more offshore turbines.
The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has announced that it may use the Wave Hub, a giant grid-connected socket ten miles off the coast of Hayle, to test its first deep-water floating wind platform.
The project will see the design, construction and installation of a floating farm by 2016 at a site with high wind speeds and in water up to 100 metres deep.
It will be operated for at least two years to show it can generate high levels of electricity while being relatively inexpensive to maintain and run.
Dr David Clarke, ETI chief executive, said: “This is a challenging project and will need local marine engineering skills and support facilities as well as the right water and wind conditions.
“We clearly need to consult with a wide range of groups and other sea users about this opportunity and this forms an important part of the study.” Claire Gibson, Wave Hub General Manager
“The concept for the floating platforms is to be able to access near-to-shore, high- wind speed sites off the west coast of the UK which would bring down the cost of generating electricity, so the Wave Hub site offers some interesting possibilities.”
The ultimate aim of the project is to develop reliable floating wind farms that can be quickly deployed in areas unsuitable for conventional offshore wind farms, opening up more of the UK’s huge offshore wind resource, which is estimated to offer enough energy to power the country nearly three times over.
Current offshore wind turbines are mounted on fixed foundations, which are not suitable in deep water. This scheme will explore whether turbines could be mounted on floating platforms, taking advantage of windier offshore sites, without being prohibitively expensive to install.
Designed to test wave energy devices in eight square kilometres of sea, Wave Hub is a giant “socket” on the seabed connected to the national grid by an underwater cable, into which wave energy devices can be “plugged” and tested on a scale not seen anywhere before. Two of the project’s four berths have already been taken by wave power companies in the UK and US.
A feasibility study into the wind platform scheme will be carried out before the summer and contracts are expected to be awarded early next year.
Claire Gibson, Wave Hub general manager, said: “This study will establish whether the site has the necessary characteristics and if a single wind turbine demonstrator project is deliverable at Wave Hub.
“We have a particular advantage in that the offshore grid infrastructure and onshore substation are already in place, and we also have a team that has experience of managing the design, consent and installation of offshore energy projects.
Last month, the Government named the South West as the UK’s first Marine Energy Park, aimed at speeding up the development of green technologies.
A study calculated there are sufficient marine energy resources for commercial use within 50km of the South West coast to deliver 9.2 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, equivalent to the annual needs of 20 per cent of UK households, or 5 per cent of the UK’s total electricity needs by 2030. Of this, 2.5GW could come from deep-water floating wind farms, 1.2GW from wave energy, 1.1GW from tidal stream, and 4.4GW from offshore wind, much of it from two existing offshore wind farms planned in the Bristol Channel and off the Dorset coast.