Microsoft joins 5G test at UK offshore wind farm

A consortium of wind and digital technology companies aims to accelerate the technological solutions needed for expanding offshore wind, including 5G telecommunications, at a “living laboratory” in the UK North Sea.

The Lynn and Inner Dowsing wind farm off the coast of Lincolnshire in the UK North Sea will be one of the sites hosting a 5G 'testbed' as part of the project (pic credit: Ramboll)

UK research and development body ORE Catapult is leading partners including Microsoft, mobile network provider Vilicom, data specialist Jet Connectivity, asset management firm XceCo, and Associated British Ports (ABP) to build the research project in the Humber estuary area off the north-east coast of England.

The £2.8 million (€3.1 million) project will focus on developing digital technologies essential for the operation and maintenance (O&M) of offshore wind projects aheads of an expected capacity expansion as the world pivots to renewable energy sources. 

The project will include a 5G testbed – to test the latest generation of telecommunication networks – across the nearby port of Grimsby and the 194MW Lynn & Inner Dowsing wind farm. 

Two 5G development and demonstration zones will be built at each location, comprising 15 radio transmitters across five sites including a wind turbine, a radio mast, and two 5G solar-powered buoys.

Ben George, head of smart O&M at ORE Catapult, described the research project as a "living laboratory" and added: "The testbed will demonstrate the benefits of new remote digital solutions that require high-bandwidth, low-latency wireless communications – aimed at making O&M safer, greener and more effective."

ORE Catapult pointed out that, on average, operations and maintenance works account for 25% of the total lifetime costs of offshore wind farms. It hopes that using robotics and other autonomous solutions can help to reduce offshore wind costs.

The research body added the project will be funded with £1 million from the national government, a partnership between businesses, universities and regional governement, plus additional industry funding.