UD is actively involved in wind energy research. Shown is the building of a utility scale turbine on the University of Delaware campus, June 2010.

Making wind power less expensive

UD-led consortium receives grant for integrated design of offshore wind farm


2:13 p.m., Oct. 5, 2011--The University of Delaware is coordinating six companies in a design effort to reduce the cost of energy and the time to deployment as well as attract investment in offshore wind power. With a $500,000 grant from the Department of Energy and an equal amount contributed by the companies, the consortium will design an integrated system for an offshore wind farm off the Atlantic Coast, near the underwater feature known as Wilmington Canyon.

“Current designs for turbine, foundation, and deployment suffer because each is designed independently by separate teams,” says Prof. Willett Kempton, who is leading the project. “We’re approaching the problem from an integrated systems perspective, where each component designer has agreed to consider his or her own components in the context of the entire offshore wind plant system.”

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The team will assess tradeoffs among fabrication, assembly, and installation approaches as well as support structure and turbine design, energy production and maintenance.

Project coordinator Andrew Levitt says, “Our overall goal is to maximize energy production, improve reliability, reduce time and simplify operations at sea—if we can achieve all these, it will significantly reduce operating cost and capital cost.”

Departing from conventional designs, the team will bring several innovations that they have already independently developed or studied, including a large turbine (7–15 MW), a one-piece support structure, rapid offshore installation procedures, automated fabrication techniques, enhanced electrical interconnections, including possibly direct current, and novel seabed fastening techniques.

Savings are achieved by fewer large turbines, more assembly ashore, fewer crane lifts to install at sea and less loss of electric power.  Using a multi-part cost model, Levitt calculates that these innovations will collectively reduce the cost of energy by 25 percent.

But even more important, Kempton says, success of the project will foster development of an offshore-wind power industry in the United States.  Offshore wind is an abundant and clean resource—literally enough to run the entire East Coast—but it has been slow to start up because it is still slightly above the market cost of electricity.

“These are not current technologies, but they are near term, with potential application for the second set of U.S. offshore wind farms,” says Kempton. “Our ultimate goal is to create an industry by presenting policymakers with a technically feasible and economically beneficial plan, so that the stable policies needed to allow capital investment can be implemented. To that end, we plan to finalize the project with a summit for state policymakers.”

About the grant

The grant was one of 41 awards in 20 states totaling $43 million.

According to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, offshore wind is an abundant resource in the U.S. that remains untapped. 

“Through these awards, the Department of Energy is developing the critical technology and knowledge base to responsibly develop this resource, enhance our energy security, and create new clean energy jobs,” Chu said.

About the research team

The team comprises the following partners and their respective expertise:

About half the team members have extensive experience in European offshore wind construction, and the remainder have related U.S. expertise (for example, offshore oil). 

At UD, Willett Kempton, professor of marine policy and research director of the Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration, is the principal investigator.  Andrew Levitt, a graduate student in marine policy in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, is the project manager.  

For more information, contact Levitt at alevitt@udel.edu.

Article by Diane Kukich

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