Rise of the robots, ROVs and flying kites forecast for future wind-ustry

Offshore Renewable Energy forecast for wind farms of the future.
Offshore Renewable Energy forecast for wind farms of the future.

The offshore wind-ustry could become the backbone of the country’s energy mix within by 2030, with pioneering designs and storage technology potentially generating a third of the UK’s electricity demand met by offshore wind.

An ‘explosion’ of innovation in the UK will see an army of autonomous robots service giant wind turbines with tens of rotors, while parachute-shaped kites will transform how we think about wind turbines.

These predictions are based on forecasts by Dr Stephen Wyatt, Research and Innovation Director at the Glasgow-based Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.

 He said: “Our projection is based on research taking place in the UK right now – and importantly gaining traction across the world as exciting new approaches to generating clean, abundant energy from offshore wind start to emerge.

 “Trends we’re likely to see growing over the next two to three decades include robots and drones, with automated motherships carrying armies of droids to hazardous offshore locations, where they will carry out maintenance and basic repairs cheaper than ever before.

 “Turbines will become bigger, but challenges faced by scale and weight will mean more innovative designs will come to the fore, including multi-rotor designs and vertical axis turbines.

“Issues caused by intermittency will also be a thing of the past, with energy storage technology maturing within 12 years to become a key part of the UK’s energy mix – potentially responsible for meeting a third of the UK’s electricity demand.

 “While we will see an increase in automation and robotics, this new wave of offshore technology will in fact create jobs, with engineers and programmers required to create, maintain and operate these devices. Offshore crew transfers will still be a vital part of operations, as more complex tasks are unlikely to ever be fully possible using robotic technology.”

 

How will wind farms of the future develop?

2020-2030

By 2030, floating wind farms will become the norm, with significantly larger turbines generating over 15MW of energy, compared to the 7MW drivetrains today. Blades themselves will be larger, but novel materials will reduce the cost of the repairs and maintenance.

ACT Blade in Edinburgh is using techniques borrowed from creating ultra-efficient sails from racing yachts to engineer textile blades.

 Drones and AI-driven monitoring systems will be commonplace, with Glasgow-based Wideblue’s internal blade inspection system, autonomous drones from Perceptual Robotics, Bristol, and Darlington’s Modus Seabed Intervention’s Automated Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and docking station meaning basic sub-sea repairs and maintenance can be carried out without human intervention.

 Rovco’s AI-driven 3D vision-based underwater survey solution is another example, with the Bristol company saying their tech could potentially save hundreds of millions on offshore inspections every year.

Drones won’t be the only robots swarming over offshore turbines. ROVs could significantly reduce the cost and risk of blade maintenance activities – and can operate even when the wind is too strong for flying drones.

 Storage solutions being developed in the North Sea, such as Statoil’s BatWind technology will end intermittency issues inherent with existing wind power technology and ensure every ounce of renewable energy harnessed from the wind is used.

 

2030-2040

By 2040, turbines will be accompanied with a new type of technology. There may be extensive roll out of a floating kite-power generators, such as that being developed by KPS (Kite Power Systems Ltd) in Glasgow,

Because the kites are lightweight, the systems use less material than conventional wind technology so produce energy at a lower cost.

Turbines will take on a new look, with designs moving from the single-rotor designs to arrays of multiple rotors on a single structure, drastically reducing installation and maintenance costs – as well as generating up to 20-MW using small 500-kW turbines.

 And those turbines will even benefit from even cheaper generators. Expensive rare-earth magnets will be replaced by cheap, abundantly available ferrite magnets, such as those under development by Green Spur Renewables.

Robotic inspections, meanwhile, will become entirely autonomous, with advanced Artificial Intelligence making basic maintenance and repair operations cheaper than ever.

 

2040-2050

Wind turbines will continue to grow in size, with 200m blades being the norm in single-rotor designs.

Because of their size, these blades will use an entirely new construction method, with flexible blade structures used to reduce the likelihood of breakage.

 Secondary rotors could start to be used on the tip of blades – where because of their high speed they will generate even more power from every gust.

Vertical axis turbines – still in their infancy – will start to address the challenges current designs pose in weight, with larger traditional blades becoming less feasible on a tower structure. These vertical axis blades will have numerous other benefits, such as being able to generate power no matter which direction the wind is blowing in.

This technology will benefit from the MagLev technology currently used for metro trains in Japan. Used in tandem with vertical axis turbines, this will reduce the friction between the turbine and the blade to zero, allowing greater yield by allowing generation with even less wind.

The rise of the robots will continue with the introduction of’ the Mothership’. These are fully autonomous boats that can transfer crew to turbines as well as more advanced robots and drones, acting both as a charging station and data-hub. These will allow for even more complex tasks and repairs to be carried out than ever before.

27 Feb 2018

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