Link to the article: Horizon Results Booster
As the need for clean energy and the decarbonization efforts intensify, renewable energy producers, researchers, regulators, and governments are looking for ways to make green energy more competitive and affordable.
Offshore wind farms that generate electricity from wind blowing across the sea play an important role in this process and are gaining more attention and weight in the overall energy mix. Thanks to the higher speed of winds, greater consistency, and lower environmental impact, they are considered more efficient than onshore wind farms and several countries have now ambitious goals in exploiting this technology.
The downside, however, is that maintaining such an infrastructure, especially in deeper waters, is still a complex and costly process. As costs get higher as the turbine ages, finding innovative solutions to reduce operational costs, time, and effort is crucial to the offshore wind market.
“We developed an integrated solution to automatically monitor key factors that impact the wind farms and allow operators to have critical information about the metallic structure of wind turbine towers.”, says Ainhoa Cortés, Senior researcher and Associate Director of Electronics Systems and Communications Group of the ICT Division at Ceit.
She coordinates WATEREYE, an EU funded project that aims at reducing operation and maintenance costs of offshore wind turbines.
To do this, the research team developed a system to detect, evaluate, and predict the status of offshore structures. “Corrosion is an important failure in offshore wind platforms, and it is not currently measured. The system developed within WATEREYE can monitor corrosion and help operators predict interventions and avoid emergency maneuvers that may imply higher costs,” the researcher adds.
The WATEREYE system is based on ultrasound fixed sensors that monitor the steel structure of the wind turbine tower and can measure the level of corrosion. A mobile sensor attached to a drone covers the atmospheric zone by monitoring critical points of the tower. All the data is collected wirelessly by a computer.
The research process included the collection of a huge set of samples to analyze corrosion in various environments, the development of 3D visualisation tool, building models and prediction tools to estimate the decommissioning or lifetime extension of the structures, and creating control algorithms and tools for operational maintenance.
Having access to this kind of real time data will help operators detect problems in advance, avoid critical failures, plan infrastructure works, and reduce overall costs.
From Lab to Commercialization
Traditionally, the mission of research is making discoveries that have an impact on society. And while scientists may excel at producing disrupting innovation, ensuring impact and use of research results is not always a straightforward process.
For WATEREYE, creating impact means making sure that the solution developed will reach technological maturity and be transferred to the market even after the end of the project. The team benefited from the Horizon Results Booster support services for research results exploitation and business plan development.
“One of the most valuable aspects of the service was the business opportunity assessment tool that provides the context for thinking about the market, the competitors, the customers, the team. There are a lot of things that, as researchers, we are not used to thinking about. We need to change our minds a little bit to go beyond the technologies and solutions we develop. Once you have the solution or even before that, you need to analyze if it is in line with the needs of the target market. The service helped us in this regard,” says Cortés.
The next step for her team is to increase the technological readiness level of the WATEREYE solution, which involves refining the exploitation strategy as well as validating the system in an operational wind farm before going to the market.
Why Is it Important?
There is a massive potential for both offshore wind and ocean energy. Renewable energy from the seas can be harnessed by a variety of technologies, making it play a key role in clean energy transition. Europe is already an “early adopter”, with the first offshore wind farm installed in Denmark in 1991. Moreover, almost half of the active companies in the wind sector (onshore and offshore) are headquartered in the EU.
The installed offshore wind capacity in the EU was 14.6 GW in 2021 and is set to increase by at least 25 times by 2030, using the vast potential of the five sea basins.