Already next year, Narec, which recently changed its name from the New and Renewable Energy Centre, plans to have three new capital assets:
- A 3 MW marine test stand (Nautilus);
- A 100 m blade test facility (Blade Test 2); and
- A 15 MW offshore wind test stand (Fujin).
By 2012, Narec also plans to have its 100 MW offshore wind R&D site in operation. The site will have water depths of 30-60 m with room for 20 wind turbines in the 5-10 MW class. The infrastructure cost of the project is estimated to £18.5 million.
Alan Lowdon, Director of Technology & Innovation, says Narec is already attracting overseas clients and that the centre is an attractive one to replicate. The centre has already been asked for advice for design similar centres outside the UK.
Wind turbine testing
Drive train testing
The planned 15 MW drive train testing facility will aim to simulate ‘real’ offshore conditions to accelerate testing. The test facilities can simulate 20 years of operation in the field over the space of 6-9 months onshore.
Existing offshore wind turbines will collect data, which will be fed back to the test facility to recreate conditions in a controlled environment, making the testing increasingly realistic over time.
“That will allow us to simulate in a very controlled environment, in a very safe environment, the performance that the turbines will have offshore,” explains Stephen Wilson, Director of Wind & Marine.
The new 100 m blade test facility will be able to simulate the life time of a blade in the space of 3 months. Narec says it will start the procurement process for the facility this month, and that the design of the building should be fixed by November.
Part of the aim for Narec, is to help the industry be ready for the Round 3 offshore wind projects. Tony Quinn, Director of Major Assets & Projects, says: “Our role here is very much associated with helping the industry get deployed by 2020, the 30 GW of offshore wind that it’s targeted to achieve.”
It is all about gaining investor confidence in technologies through accelerated testing.
The Narec site also has 70 m of sea bed in one of the docks that can be used for testing anchoring systems, amongst other things. Furthermore, a substation building will also be built in the Blyth harbour.
Offshore test site
The offshore prototype wind test site for 20 offshore wind turbines, planned to cover an area of around 20 km2, has already seen industry support and interest. Quinn says the project has received 27 letters of support from the industry, and Narec is already in discussions for first use of the site.
Wilson adds: “The offshore test site is not just about wind turbines. The foundations and the deployment techniques and the transfer techniques – they are all critical to make the whole thing work.
“We will not develop vessels - that’s not our position – but the scope of the project is actually very, very broad when you look at all the bits that come into [the equation].”
Wilson says the turbines installed will operate as ‘mode’ wind turbines where developers can decide on changes, have them tested in the onshore facilities, and then fit them onto the offshore wind turbine, and compare against the original design. The idea is to avoid the costly risk of failure after deployment.
“Some of the failures we have seen offshore should have been, frankly, expected because what you had was a huge amount of prototypes being installed offshore and therefore if one went wrong, they were all going to go wrong,” Wilson says.
He says some of the failures were due to lack of knowledge, but that most were due to not having had the time to develop out the risk of failure. He acknowledges the question, however, of whether to got to market early and reap the potential benefits, or to wait and test further, but risk losing that first-to-market position.
He warns that if you get it wrong when offshore, it can be very expensive, and it is also a “very public space to have a failure.”
It is not only the technology that must be in place for Round 3, the people with the right skills will also be crucial.
Narec recently opened its 27 m training tower on the site, and according to Wilson, more and more training will become available at Narec:
“We are now developing ideas for a complete centre for training, where providers can have access to the relevant equipment and facilities (nacelles, blades, etc) ... some sort of national or regional centre.”
The tower is already in place, but the rest would depend on funding. Wilson is still optimistic the centre could be developed together with colleges “sometime next year.”
As Wilson says, the people required for offshore wind need to be “an electro-mechanical technician who is also a marine.” In other words, both skills and fitness are required to work in the offshore wind environment.
The offshore prototype wind test site will also be used for training purposes.
The planned 3 MW marine energy testing stand will be able to address around 80% of the market. Quinn explains that the marine test stand will only be able to test rotating devices, excluding designs using oscillating water columns and linear designs.
The testing stand will ‘hang’ over one of the docks at Narec’s site in Blyth.
Narec is funded by the Regional Development Agency (RDA), One North East, but is also increasingly earning its own money. “We ultimately want to get to the point where we get a significant chunk of our revenue coming in from commercial activity,” Wilson says.
Despite the announced budget cuts in the UK, which have also hit RDAs such as One North East, Narec’s Quinn believes Narec’s funding is safe for now: “The reviews that have taken place so far have been positive. The government commitment to the deployment – particularly of offshore wind – is still there, and they have been pretty supportive.
“BIS and DECC have had an initial review of our projects and they have been pretty positive,” he adds.
In the words of Quinn, Narec is heading towards becoming a technology park – “a one stop shop for testing”.