Deep-water foundations typically account for one-fifth of an offshore project's total cost. But the Carbon Trust, a government-funded, independent firm, hopes the designs will help cut foundation costs by at least 25%. This would improve the economics of wind farms far out at sea, including many of the areas being considered under the UK's Round 3 of bids for offshore site licences, which present more treacherous conditions than any UK wind developments to date.
Over 100 engineering companies worldwide submitted ideas for lowering the cost of foundations for wind turbines in rough seas up to 60 metres deep and as far as 100 miles from shore. Each of the shortlisted designs now receive up to £100,000 for concept development, engineering analysis, commercial feasibility and technical assistance. The prize, worth a total £20 million, is for up to three winners to see their designs built in large-scale demonstration projects in 2010-12.
The designs have been assessed by a panel of judges, including international offshore wind developers SSE Renewables, Dong Energy, RWE Innogy, Iberdrola subsidiary Scottish Power Renewables and Statoil. The project is the first and largest phase of the Carbon Trust's £30 million Offshore Wind Accelerator programme to cut the cost of offshore wind farms.
The Carbon Trust says that to generate 25% of the UK's electricity from offshore wind by 2020 will require 6000 turbines at sea, at a cost of £75 billion. This is the country's biggest engineering challenge in the coming decade, says the trust's chief executive Tom Delay. "Without new thinking to cut costs many planned projects could remain on the drawing board, putting our carbon targets and energy security at risk."
According to the trust, there will be 15,000 or more offshore wind turbines globally by 2020, a market for foundations alone worth up to £2.5 billion a year.