Carbon Trust competition invites solutions for future offshore wind farms

The UK Carbon Trust is running a competition to solve the problem of getting engineers and their equipment safely on to wind turbines. A total of 13 designs have been shortlisted for potential development from among the submitted proposals.

Most offshore wind farms at present are located within 25km of the coast, which makes for easy access. With existing boats and maintenance equipment, engineers can work in waves up to 1.5m high, which makes most wind turbines accessible for 330 days a year.

However, the new generation of "round three" offshore wind farms would be located around 290km out to sea, and conditions at these distances from shore would be much rougher.

Also the existing maintenance equipment would only function about 210 days a year. These, by far, much bigger wind farms would house as many as 2,500 turbines, as against 100 at those nearer the shore – significantly increasing the need for maintenance.

The Carbon Trust competition is aimed at stimulating innovation in the field and calls for designs that would allow engineers to do their jobs in waves up to 3 m high, letting them attend to maintenance tasks for 300 days a year. According to the trust, with the development of such equipment, "turbine availability" would increase around 4 per cent, allowing wind farms to increase annual energy generation revenues by about £3 billion. 

Among the shortlisted designs are:  a giant robotic arm for transferring engineers and equipment to the turbine base and, a "seahorse" vessel with a towering keel which minimises movements in the ocean swell. The designs also include a giant harbour mothership which would serve as a small hotel for engineers for weeks on end, dispatching smaller daughter craft to access the turbines.