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June 6th, 2013

Offshore Wind Takes 1/8th Step Forward

by Andrew Price, President & COO


The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, along with industry partners of the DeepCWind Consortium, launched VolturnUS, a 1/8th scale floating wind turbine last week. The prototype turbine is small, with only a 20 kW generator, but has the distinction of being the first floating wind turbine in the US. Partners in the DeepCwind consortium have very big goals for floating offshore wind, including driving the price of delivered electricity down to 10 cents per kWh by 2020 and deploying 5,000 MW of wind capacity off the coast of Maine by 2030.

The name Volturnus comes from roman mythology. Volturnus was a god of water and Vulturnus was god of the east wind. Both seem apropos for the very large 6 MW turbine envisioned to be operating by 2016. First, however, will come a full year of real world data collection with the 1/8th scale prototype.

The 1/8th prototype itself follows a 1/50th scale version of the turbine that was tested in a UMaine wave tank. Looking ahead, phase 3 is two full scale 6 MW direct drive wind turbines, followed by phase 4 and 5, 500 MW by 2020 and 5,000 MW by 2030.

The 1/8th prototype was launched in Brewer Maine and was towed down the Penobscot River to its first anchoring location off Castine, which has sheltered waters. Castine also happens to be the home of Maine Maritime Academy, a partner in the offshore wind project. CES President and COO, Jon Sorenson was at the launch ceremony and receives credit for the nice photo. Later this summer the turbine will be anchored off Mohegan island, about 12 miles off the coast of Maine in unsheltered waters. 

To counter the corrosive offshore environment, the tower is made of composite materials while the hull is concrete. The concrete hull is being designed to be reused, after repowering or replacement of the turbine, with an expected useful life of 60 to 75 years. The prototype is festooned with instrumentation to gather as much environmental data during the test period as possible. The prototype is to be connected to Central Maine Power grid while anchored off Castine. With only a small 20 kW generator, delivering power to the grid is largely for research purposes. 

The UMaine lead consortium is competing with international energy giant Statoil, which is also working on an offshore floating wind project in Maine as discussed in a previous blog. The Bangor Daily News reported Tuesday that Maine’s Governor, Paul Lepage - an outspoken critic of the Statoil project - supports the UMaine led wind project in hopes that it would keep more jobs and investment dollars in Maine. The offshore floating wind turbines are enormously expensive today – and need to be heavily subsidized by ratepayers to move forward. Supporters argue that, over time, costs will come down with experience and scale.    

Why is the Northeast US a hotbed of floating offshore wind? Heavy population concentration near to the shore, high electricity prices relative to other parts of the US, and a strong wind resource. Unlike the offshore farms that are already proliferating in Europe, Maine has very deep water near to shore, requiring the development of new technology to float the wind turbines rather than to anchor directly to the sea floor. Japan also has deep waters and is investing in floating turbine research. Floating turbines can be located farther offshore – perhaps avoiding some of the opposition that has plagued the near shore CapeWind project in Massachusetts.  

Tags: Offshore Wind, Maine, Maine Maritime Academy, University of Maine, DeepC Wind, Floating Wind, Central Maine Power, Statoil, Hywind, Bangor Daily News)

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