Philip Totaro / Founder & CEO / Totaro & Associates
Offshore wind technology development has seen almost explosive growth in the past six years. Almost 80% of all the innovation and technology development in offshore wind has been undertaken in that time-frame. The result has led to the global surge in deployment and the significant cost reductions which have been recognized.
Both onshore and offshore wind have seen technological innovations reduce Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) through better reliability as well as higher performance and efficiency. For onshore wind, this has resulted in better financing rates and which also impact LCOE. However, in spite of the progress which offshore wind has made, the innovations which have been developed thus far have not yet fully impacted offshore LCOE and more technology development can still have a major impact on cost reductions.
Tracking those offshore innovations by benchmarking where they lie in the technology maturity scale is important for the industry to recognize as we consider the next wave of strategic investments.
Looking at a heatmap of the number of patent filings for offshore technology, it appears that while there are some technologies which are commercially available, a majority (60.3%) of offshore innovations are still in the design and early testing phases of TRL 3 – 5.
Many of the innovations which have the potential to be a high impact to the industry through widespread use on multiple projects, are still in the testing phases of TRL 5 – 7. This analysis clearly defines a strategic gap in technologies which are poised to be commercially ready (TRL 8) indicating a need for further investment to push more cost competitive technology to market.
It will come as no surprise that most of the innovations in offshore are concentrated around foundations as well as vessels. Nevertheless, most of the foundation technologies being proposed are still at a very early stage of development and an analysis of those proposed concepts reveals most do not significantly improve net LCOE.
With a fairly good distribution of innovations spread through the entire breadth of technology, the lack of focus in certain areas such as turbine controls, SCADA and condition monitoring may prove to be detrimental to the offshore industry as it continues to mature. Nevertheless, it is important to note that this analysis represents only those technologies which are offshore-specific, and does not count any dual-use innovations which have also been proposed.
Predictions for future technology development come from an in-depth analysis of the patent landscape as well as all journal references and conference papers dealing with offshore technology.
Future wind park design, including physical layout, type of electrical system infrastructure, turbine technology, as well as installation and service methods will benefit from a system engineering philosophy. An examination of the future technology trends in offshore is highlighted below.
As we have seen in onshore, the turbine technology of the future will make a shift towards modular platform architectures to enable site optimized design. Common platform architecture is set to become more pervasive as companies seek manufacturing and supply chain cost efficiencies and to help further drive down OPEX.
The intent to move towards a “one size fits all” foundation solution would enable more manufacturing economies and other ancillary benefits around installation and servicing. It appears that a semi-submersible floater or a tension leg platform are poised to become the most cost optimal solutions regardless of water depth.
Electrical interconnection has already moved from medium voltage to high voltage, and AC to DC-based solutions with some hybrid HVAC and HVDC solutions proposed for the future. Analysis of the early stage technology developments suggests that this evolution will continue as the transition to high temperature superconducting (HTS) cable technology is already underway. HTS is likely to be used in both inter-array and export cables while more advanced materials that would provide self-healing casings are under evaluation.
The industry is focused on evolving the standard at-sea installation techniques with the use of more quayside component assembly. Conventional vessel solutions will still continue to have their place, although the cost of upgrading to vessels that can handle larger turbines and foundations is likely to be prohibitive versus the shift towards full assembly. This trend works with the move towards floating foundations noted above.
Condition-based maintenance solutions will become the norm as turbine output optimization based on remaining useful life, predictive maintenance scheduling, and spares demand scheduling all look to have an impact. Remote inspection technologies including optical / video camera-based blade tower inspection, tower climbing inspection ‘robots’, remote controlled aerial vehicles, and wireless data transmission technologies will play important roles in the future.
Offshore services may see the use of motherships with crew transfer vessels, as part of a flexible deployment structure. Modular access solutions will benefit from being foundation mounted instead of vessel mounted to reduce vessel dead weight.
Offshore technology development appears to be well underway with a significant amount of technology available to further reduce LCOE. More detailed analysis on each of these areas will be presented in an upcoming IRENA report entitled ‘Offshore Wind Technology: Innovation Outlook for its Deployment in the Next Three Decades.’
Filed Under: News, Offshore wind