Offshore wind turbines


University and industry partnership propels the future of renewable energy

A major collaboration between universities and energy companies has made vital improvements to offshore wind turbines, which could help them generate more renewable energy and reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The £7.7 million partnership between the Universities of Hull, Durham and Sheffield and two global energy companies, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and Ørsted, is contributing significantly to making the production of offshore wind energy more economical and sustainable through innovation in advanced technologies.

As part of the collaboration, which included several projects at each university, a team of researchers in Hull’s School of Engineering, led by Professor James Gilbert, has developed methods to monitor the manufacture of wind turbine blades to improve quality and reduce waste.

Professor James Gilbert, from the University of Hull, said: “The research at the University of Hull addressed specific challenges in design, manufacture and control of wind turbines but working with colleagues in other research groups often inspires new ideas and approaches.

“The close collaboration with the industry partners ensures the work remains focussed on real industry challenges and aligns to wider needs of the sector. It also provides great opportunities for wider collaboration and helps develop the future high-level skills needed to grow the sector.”

These advancements, along with research being carried out at Sheffield and Durham universities, will help ensure that manufacturers can have better control over the manufacturing process, improving yield and ensuring that offshore wind turbines are operating more efficiently and continue operating for much longer periods of time. This in turn will help to reduce the UK’s reliance on non-renewable energy sources and enable a greater percentage of the UK’s overall energy usage to be provided by renewable sources. The technology can also help introduce new turbine models more quickly helping expand the deployment of offshore wind turbines to meet government and industry targets.

The research at the University of Hull addressed specific challenges in design, manufacture and control of wind turbines but working with colleagues in other research groups often inspires new ideas and approaches.

Professor James Gilbert

The partnership was funded by the UKRI Prosperity Partnership programme, which specifically aims to support research into real-life problems and issues identified by our industrial partners. As a result, the outputs of the project can be quickly adopted into the research and development and production strategies of the offshore wind sector.

Dr Arwyn Thomas, Industrial Principal Investigator from Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE), one of the world’s leading providers of wind power products and solutions, said: “This collaboration allows SGRE to steer the University to apply its excellent track record for innovation towards real life issues facing the industry. It helps to focus the research into areas that are far more relevant and which will have much more immediate, positive impacts. This, in turn, ensures that our graduate and postgraduate researchers develop the right skills to enter industry and help meet the current skills shortage.”

Dave Bould, Senior Project Representative from Ørsted, which develops, constructs and operates offshore wind farms, said: “ Modern wind turbines are massive structures that, ideally, should last for the entire life of an offshore wind farm without needing replacement or significant maintenance. Replacing a structure of this size in the harsh offshore environment is a very costly and time consuming exercise that results in significant amounts of lost electricity generation.

“Overall, improvements in health monitoring, operations and maintenance helps us to continually drive down the cost of offshore wind energy – savings that are passed on to the consumer.”

It is estimated that the cost of energy from offshore wind farms is now one quarter of what it was in 2009, thanks in part, to advancements made from these types of partnerships.

Another key outcome of the collaboration has been in helping to identify where the next stages of research need to be concentrated, to allow even more improvements to be developed. Funding for a number of follow-on projects has already been secured thanks to the excellent collaboration between all the partner institutions.

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