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Three novel projects picked for support -- Offshore R&D spending

A vertical axis wind turbine, an "offshore-specific" wind farm and a deep water floating turbine are three of the four offshore energy projects to each receive a share of a £20 million pot of UK government and industry funds for research and development. The fourth project is for a 1 MW tidal turbine.

The projects are the first to be awarded grants by Britain's Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), a 50-50 partnership between the government and six global firms: BP, Caterpillar, EDF Energy, E.ON, Rolls-Royce and Shell. It was set up in 2006 to provide cheaper low carbon energy from 2020 and help the UK become more energy self-sufficient. The projects are a collaboration of universities, small and medium-scale enterprises, large corporations, consultancies and ETI members.

For the deep water turbine project, Blue H Technologies, incorporated in the UK but based in the Netherlands, is leading a consortium made up of defence and aerospace company BAE Systems; the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), a government agency; EDF Energy; Romax, which specialises in wind turbine drivetrains; and offshore engineering services company SLP Energy. They aim to design 5 MW floating turbine technology for water depths of between 30 and 300 metres with less complexity and lower costs than wind turbines fixed on the seabed.

Blue H has already floated a prototype floating platform off the coast of Italy mounted with an old Dutch Lagerwey 80 kW turbine (Windpower Monthly, July 2008). It is currently building a 2 MW turbine in Brindisi, also for deployment off Puglia, southern Italy.

Novel aerogenerator

Project NOVA, for "novel offshore vertical axis," is being developed by a 100% British-based consortium led by Guildford energy specialists OTM Consulting, with involvement of the universities of Cranfield, Strathclyde and Sheffield, small design and development company Wind Power Limited, CEFAS, James Ingram Associates and research organisation QinetiQ. It aims to prove the feasibility of a multi-megawatt vertical axis "aerogenerator" for the offshore environment. The turbine has sails mounted at intervals on a pair of giant wings that form a V-shape.

The consortium claims the concept is more rugged, stable and allows simpler maintenance access than conventional horizontal axis turbines. Project manager Annie Hairsine of OTM says the concept was developed some 15 years ago by David Sharpe, who now works at Wind Power Ltd, based in Blyth. It has already completed a couple of trials with a ten-metre scale model. The feasibility study phase is expected to last 15 months, after which the consortium hopes to install a large scale demonstration of up to 5-10 MW.

The third project is the least advanced. Called Helm Wind after Britain's only named wind, it aims to design from scratch a turbine and wind farm specifically for the offshore environment that is more reliable and easier to access and maintain. E.ON Engineering is leading a consortium that includes Rolls-Royce, BP Alternative Energy and Strathclyde University. Chris Open from E.ON says that rather than modifying conventional designs, the consortium is looking at ways of exploiting the fewer constraints offshore, such as visual impact or noise concerns. "We are going back to the drawing board and saying: if you want to extract power from the wind energy resource offshore, what is the most efficient way to do that?"

Further funding

Open admits that Helm Wind is under time pressure. After some 18 months, all three projects will be expected to have delivered a feasibility study and will be competing for further funding. "We are starting from scratch but that approach does create significant opportunities. We can look at doing things in a completely different way," says Open.

Bill Leithead from Strathclyde University, which is involved with both the NOVA and Helm Wind projects, says each aims to create bigger, more effective wind turbines specifically for offshore deployment. "At the same time, we want to create technology that is cost effective and extremely reliable to keep offshore maintenance to an absolute minimum."

The offshore wind and tidal projects are the first to get funds from a total ETI budget of £1.1 billion. Further money for the next set of offshore projects is to be announced soon. Other areas to be supported later are transport, distributed energy, carbon capture and storage, and energy networks.

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