In November contractor SeaRoc completed installation of an anemometry hub 6km offshore in the North Sea as part of the National Renewable Energy Centre's (Narec) offshore demonstration site near Blyth in north-east England.
Weather, environmental and wildlife monitoring will commence shortly with the aim of better understanding the conditions offshore. It is hoped that this will reduce the timescales and costs of consenting projects, specifically those planned at larger sites.
The installation is a milestone for the project and could prove to be an important catalyst in the development of the next phase of the UK's offshore wind capacity.
Blyth will be able to reflect, quite close to shore, the conditions found at more distant North Sea sites. Dogger Bank zone, for example, 125km off the Yorkshire coast, has water depths of 18-63m. Depths 5.6-12km off Blyth are 35-58m, so foundations and turbine combinations can be tested in a deep-water, grid-connected, low-cost environment, alongside established on-shore testing and logistics facilities.
Currently awaiting planning approval, with a decision expected next spring, the 100MW demonstration facility would comprise around 15 turbines arranged in three arrays. For each of the arrays, a range of foundations types and turbine types are being considered.
Each array would be no bigger than 33.3MW, so combinations of four 7MW turbines, five 6MW turbines or six 5MW turbines would all be feasible.
Up to three turbine manufacturers will be awarded tenancies to test their turbines at the facility in the first quarter of 2013. Much interest has been received from manufacturers and developers, said Narec operations director Tony Quinn.
"We've caught the industry as they're forming consortia," said Quinn, speaking to Windpower Monthly's sister title Windpower Offshore. "We've pushed the industry together and this helps to share the risks on the development of new technology."
The winning turbine manufacturers will fund the Blyth site's build out and connection to the grid. Construction is scheduled to start in 2014 and with a grid connection agreement already secured, the site could be up and running by the end of that year or by early 2015.
33.3MW - The size of each of three arrays planned for an offshore testing site in the North Sea.