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The offshore wind sector remains relatively immature, and despite the first demonstration project being built in 1991, the total installed capacity only breached the 1,000 MW barrier in 2007/08. Added to this, experience has shown that the sector presents unique technical challenges that must be addressed through research and development efforts:
- Any project involves multiple distributed installations, spread over much larger areas and in much larger numbers than other offshore industries
- Nearshore shallow water (for most projects) siting - unlike oil and gas, sea defence works, ports and harbours.
- More stringent economics than oil and gas
These factors combine so that that there is limited borrowing available from other sectors, and technology has had to evolve within a short timescale on a small number of projects, leaving significant scope for further maturing. This issue covers all parts of the industry including:
- Wind turbines
- Wind turbine support structures
- Modelling tools
- Electrical infrastructure
- Assembly and installation
- Operations and maintenance
Two drivers cut across all these areas: safety of personnel and the public; and environmental protection.
EWEA has led the EU Wind Energy Technology Platform (see Chapter 7:R&D) and has convened a Working Group to identify necessary future technical initiatives for offshore wind. These issues are discussed here.
Wind turbine technology in general is discussed in Chapter 3: Wind Turbine Technology . Some future innovative wind energy conversion systems that may be exploited on land or offshore are reviewed in Future Innovations.
It has long been acknowledged that some of the design drivers for a wind turbine installed offshore are fundamentally different from those installed onshore, specifically:
- The non-wind turbine elements of an offshore project represent a much higher proportion of the capital cost, with that cost element only partially scaling with turbine size.
- Acceptable noise levels are much higher offshore.
- Better reliability is required offshore.
These drivers have already influenced the design of wind turbines used offshore and this is leading to the development of wind turbines specifically designed for offshore use with features such as:
- Larger rotors and rated power
- Higher rotor tip speeds
- Sophisticated control strategies
- Electrical equipment designed to improve grid connection capability
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