Winds of change

Mark Goudie | 16 Feb 2016 | Comments

Engineers naturally love a challenge, and work best when presented with a problem to solve.

For the energy industry, this challenge is the “trilemma”; trying to balance security of supply, reduction of emissions, and the cost of energy. This trilemma directly influences the market conditions that drive innovation, such as energy policy, or financial incentives.

Abigail, Barney, Eva, Frank, Imogen… no they aren’t work colleagues, but storms that have impacted the UK over the last few months, reinforcing that the UK is resource-rich in wave, tidal and wind potential. If we are to meet the UK’s decarbonisation targets, offshore wind has a major part to play.

This month we saw DONG Energy’s Hornsea Project One offshore windfarm, representing over £15bn in investment, get the green light. As more and more offshore windfarms of this scale are deployed, we have to consider what structure is used below the waterline to support the wind turbine itself. This is just one of the engineering challenges driving innovation for us at Atkins.

As shallow water sites around the UK become scarcer, we will have to look to deeper water for our next generation of windfarms. Floating windfarms are ideally suited to operate in these deep waters and could substantially increase our offshore wind generating capacity. Not only could they help us to meet our decarbonisation targets, they also hold the potential to accelerate the creation of a European super grid.

With floating windfarms able to be situated further from the coast, it reduces the visual impact normally associated with onshore and nearshore windfarms; what I like to call the “not in my back garden” factor. This means they can accommodate the largest turbines available, to generate power more efficiently.

Atkins has been involved in various floating offshore wind projects, including Principal Power’s WindFloat concept; Pilot Offshore Renewable’s Kincardine project; and Hexicon’s world –first, multi-turbine, offshore wind floating concept. These projects cover a range of different designs, in different environments, and show that Atkins is at the very forefront of innovative floating substructure design.

Pushing boundaries, working collaboratively and facing the challenges in the energy sector head on creates a culture of innovation. This is a culture that has fostered the development of the floating offshore wind sector, which I see as an integral part of meeting our emission reduction targets, and our energy demand, in years to come.

This blog was first posted on the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering blog.