In June, the University of Delaware and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced plans to collaborate on offshore wind research and to facilitate the testing of commercial wind turbines off the Delaware coast. That project is moving forward, and currently members of UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment are evaluating how to create an offshore test site.
Though still in the early stages, UD and NREL are working out how manufacturers can evaluate new turbine designs in Atlantic Ocean conditions. New designs must be certified under conditions of salt water and mist, wave forces against towers, wind gusts, and extreme weather events such as northeasters. The information gained from such a site will help facilitate the next generation of clean energy technology in the United States, and, researchers say, could help bring green jobs to Delaware if located in or near the state.
An ideal test site would have test equipment and experienced test engineers nearby. The testing process requires extensive measurements and monitoring, and approvals by certification agencies according to U.S. and international standards.
The resulting certifications, in turn, lead to greater confidence in new ocean turbine designs on the part of investors, insurers, and regulators. The country’s current lack of a certified test site in U.S. waters is a hurdle to U.S. wind companies being able to enter the rapidly growing offshore wind market.
“The site could be anywhere from three to 14 miles offshore in the Atlantic. We have to weigh the benefits of each location,” said Jeremy Firestone, one of the UD’s leaders in the project, adding that farther from shore winds are more powerful but it costs more for transmission to get the energy back to land. Siting the turbines farther from land also consumes more time for test engineers who have to travel out to them.
Firestone, who emphasized that the university is taking a detailed, deliberate approach to the project, also said that researchers are evaluating potential turbine configurations and looking closely at potential environmental issues related to turbine operations. A test site would facilitate study of oceanic and environmental parameters including the effect (positive or negative) on fish, birds, marine mammals, and other marine wildlife.
All of these issues will be carefully evaluated before UD applies for any permits needed from state and/or federal agencies, depending on the final location. It could be six to nine months before permit applications are filed.
“There are many scientific, engineering, environmental, and policy issues to consider before we can move forward with the permitting process,” Firestone said. “We want to get our ducks in a row and do it right rather than stubbing our toes and losing a year.”
Periodic updates on this effort, along with updates on UD’s land-based turbine in Lewes, can be found at www.ceoe.udel.edu/LewesTurbine.