Spanish firm floats masts for deep seas

SPAIN: A Spanish research and development centre specialising in offshore energy is poised to install a floating wind-measuring mast designed for operation in waters up to 200 metres deep as soon as weather conditions off Spain's wind-swept Atlantic coast allow.

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The Idermar project in the northern region of Cantabria, with two 80-130 metre masts already operating, is the only offshore wind programme in Spain with hardware actually up and running - although turbine installation remains several years off.

Idermar started the project in 2008 and aims to transfer its floating technology to actual turbines. The centre is negotiating to bring turbine manufacturers on board. It is unconfirmed that global offshore turbine majors Siemens and Vestas are involved.

Idermar's immediate focus, however, is to consolidate data from the two existing masts and install the third. The third mast measures 130 metres in total, with 90 metres rising above the sea surface. The first two masts, operating since 2010 and 2009, respectively, rise 80 and 60 metres above the surface. Mast II is 10 kilometres from the shores of the Cantabrian capital Santander in waters of 200 metres. Masts I and III are around 3 kilometres offshore in depths of 50 metres.

The masts' lower sections are semi-submerged, with a bulbous buoy-like section providing the buoyancy. Tensed cables anchor the masts to cement blocks placed on the seabed. The buoy section also uses water as ballast for stability.

Idermar's project is a response to the complexity and expense of installing measuring masts at sea on fixed seabed foundations. Satellites and other forms of remote measurements, or extrapolating from onshore measurements, are all limited in detail and accuracy, claims Idermar. Onsite measurements at real turbine heights, using tried-and-tested anemometers as well as new wind-measuring technologies, are vital to reducing costly offshore risks, it says. Furthermore, the masts are not limited to measuring in one fixed location.

The next step

Aiming mainly at northern European markets, especially the UK, Idermar hopes to gain certification for its measuring mast from maritime classification society Germanischer Lloyd in the next 12 months. Currently competition is limited to a handful of floating mast prototypes around Europe.

Longer term, Idermar thinks it is not possible to get a floating wind turbine out at sea using its technology before the summer of 2013 but confirms confidential negotiations with what it refers to as two of the most important global wind turbine companies to form an active part of that development.

While neither Vestas nor Siemens will confirm their involvement, both have signed agreements to establish onshore and offshore technology centres in Cantabria. The agreements were signed with Sodercan, the Cantabria regional development agency - a stakeholder in Idermar.

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