Offshore wind energy is slowly garnering more interest in the United States. According to the DOE, the U.S. has over 4,000 gigawatts of clean energy potential in offshore wind and it’s an enormous untapped energy resource. With enough turbines, offshore wind can produce four times the nation’s current total generation capacity. To deliver on the potential, the University of Maine (UMaine, composites.umaine.edu) launched the nation’s first grid-connected floating wind turbine prototype. The turbine is also the world’s first concrete-composite floating platform.
The 65-foot-tall prototype, referred to as VolturnUS, was launched off the coast of Maine and is 1:8th the size of the anticipated utility-scale offshore turbines. The data collected during its operation will be used to improve the design of the patent-pending VolturnUS system and provide technological insight to ready a full-scale unit in 2016. The goal of the UMaine offshore wind program is to reduce the cost of offshore wind to 10 cents/kwh by 2020. Ultimately, wind will be able to compete with other forms of electricity generation without subsidies, adds the DOE.
Deepwater floating wind farms could harness stronger and more consistent winds located beyond the reach of traditional fixed-foundation offshore turbines, while being out of the line of sight from shore, says UMaine. What’s more, the materials being developed at the UMaine Composites Center are lighter and more durable which help optimize platform designs.
The prototype features a semi-submersible platform that uses a lower-cost concrete foundation in addition to a lighter than steel composite tower. The materials are less expensive and are widely available in most geographic regions, making them an attractive alternative, says UMaine.
The VolturnUS technology is the culmination of more than five years of collaborative research and development conducted by the UMaine–led DeepCwind Consortium. A spinoff company, Aqua Ventus, will be formed later this year to commercialize the VolturnUS technology and develop a 12 MW demonstration wind park, adds UMaine. WPE