As the UK announces new proposals for maintaining offshore windfarms in rough seas that could save up to £3bn, Japan is planning a floating windfarm off the coast of Fukushima to help replace its lost nuclear power generation.
The Carbon Trust has published a shortlist of 13 designs picked from 450 submissions of ideas that would help transfer engineers and equipment from boats to turbines in ocean swells of up to three metres.
Among them are a boat that uses a giant robotic arm to make the transfers to the turbine base, one with suspension inspired by Paris Dakar-winning rally cars that keeps it stable, and another which, like a seahorse, has a deep keel to provide balance.
Meanwhile, according to a government official, Japan is going one step further by looking at wind farm designs which, instead of being fixed to the seabed, are anchored to it and float on the surface.
Its energy agency is looking at siting some of these off the Pacific coast of Fukushima prefecture, where the nuclear reactors that went into meltdown six months ago are located.
The country is expecting to move towards a non-nuclear, renewables-powered future by not replacing nuclear power stations as they become redundant.
The Japanese energy agency has assigned up to 20 billion yen (£166 million) to the project, using cash intended to finance the rebuilding of the disaster-hit area, the official said.
The windfarm would consist of six floating 2MW wind turbines, and would be operational by 2015.
Britain's future 'round three' offshore windfarms will utilise much larger turbines - 10MW or more - and may be located up to 300km away from land and in deeper seas than at present - up to 80m - consisting of up to 2,500 turbines.
Maintaining them in harsh weather conditions will be a tough job, but it has economic consequences - increasing access time by just 4% could save up to £3bn.
Through its Offshore Wind Accelerator programme, the Carbon Trust is therefore coordinating eight UK wind farm developers - E.ON, DONG Energy, Mainstream Renewable Power, RWE Innogy, ScottishPower Renewables, SSE Renewables, Statkraft and Statoil – to sponsor a competition to find solutions.
The winning technologies are expected to increase the access time from the current average of 210 days a year to 300, and to help reduce the levelised cost of offshore wind by saving an extra 1.3Mt CO2 per year.
Climate Change Minister Greg Barker called the projects "some of the best ideas to overcome the challenges of working in deeper water.”
The new generation of turbines will also be specifically designed for use in these windier situations by having much larger and better adapted blades.
Each successful applicant to the competition will get up to £100,000 to support the design and development of their concept, as well as technical support from the eight developers in the Offshore Wind Accelerator.
The Trust says that the shortlisted designers include a university student as well as established offshore wind maintenance vessel operators, and come from the UK, Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Canada and Australia.
The systems, together with the shortlisted winners, include:
• Transfer systems – to transfer personnel and equipment from vessel to turbine, potentially with motion-compensation:
o Autobrow, South Boats
o MOTS, Momac GmBH
o Wind Bridge, Knud Hansen
o TAS2, BMT Nigel Gee / Houlder
• Vessels – for transporting personnel and equipment from permanent bases or mother ships to turbines, incorporating a transfer system:
o Pivoting Deck Vessel, North Sea Logistics
o Nauti-Craft, Nauti-Craft
o Fjellstrand Vessel, Fjellstrand
o SES Vessel, Umoe Mandal
o SolidSea, University of Strathclyde
o TranSPAR, Extreme Ocean Innovation
• Launch and recovery systems – fitted to the permanent bases or mother ships for launching and recovering daughter craft from the sea:
o Launch & Recovery, Offshore Kinetics
o Z Port, Z Technologies
o Launch And Recovery System, Divex.
The Carbon Trust says that the global offshore wind sector is set to grow by up to 10% per year with the UK expected to capture around a 10% share of this market, estimated to be worth up to £170bn/year by 2050, making these solutions potential future export money-spinners.
Back in Japan, the six reactors at the damaged Daiichi (number two) plant where reactors went into meltdown following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. will be taken out of operation.
In addition, it has been announced that the four damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daini plant that have been brought to a stable state of "cold shutdown", are also unlikely to ever start up again.