Conference set to generate energy discussion

Industry experts will breeze in to Dundee this week to discuss the future of research in the UK’s offshore renewable energy sector.

Academics and researchers will gather in the city for the Supergen Wind Hub General Assembly, with an emphasis on the future research agenda to tackle development and decommissioning challenges for international offshore wind energy deployment.

Representatives from leading universities including Dundee, Oxford and Imperial College London will be among those speaking at the event, providing updates on research that aims to breathe new life in to Britain’s offshore wind industry and offer solutions for rapidly developing areas such as Taiwan and China.

Dr Michael Brown, a Reader in Civil Engineering at Dundee and one of the event organisers, said, “Offshore renewables face many challenges heading into the future, and greater emphasis needs to be placed on cultivating a ‘cradle to grave’ design attitude when it comes to developing new technologies for offshore wind.

“Engineering has a large part to play in this, and events like this General Assembly allow academics and industry to come together and share ideas that can help the renewable energy sector to advance both technologically and ethically.”

Around 50 delegates from across the United Kingdom are expected to arrive at Dundee’s Apex Hotel for the conference, which takes place on Thursday 8 November. Speakers will address such issues as the decommissioning of offshore turbines, construction challenges presented by deep water wind farms, and an update on the North Sea Hywind Project, the world’s only operational floating wind farm. There will also be a session dedicated to UK-China joint research projects that have recently commenced.

The event takes place against the backdrop of increasing challenges for the offshore wind sector, with the UK Government intending for 10% of the nation’s energy needs to be met by offshore wind farms by 2020. This decision has prompted energy providers to explore construction opportunities further out to sea, a move that has required engineers to examine innovative means of developing structures capable of operating in such a hostile environment.

Dr Brown and his team have been leading research into deep water foundation systems, in this case the adaptation of screw piles, which are already used on land in the construction of foundations for buildings. Working alongside researchers from the University of Durham and Southampton University, studies have taken place in to adapting this existing technology as part of a £1 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. If successful, the findings could allow wind farms to be located much further from the UK coastline, with development opportunities in shallow waters already running short.

Dr Brown added, “One of the main problems we have faced is how these new foundation types will perform when scaled up and predicting the torque requirements for installation. No installation contractor is going to invest heavily in new machinery unless we can give them the tools to accurately predict what is required to install these new foundations.

“As well as developing new solutions, engineering for the renewables sector is all about bringing down costs. Unlike the oil and gas industry, where historically the financial returns have been fairly quick, the problem with offshore wind is that it can take longer for any investments to be recouped. Because of that, the challenge for engineers is to take existing technology and make that more cost-effective.”

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