The world?s largest offshore wind turbine drive train test rig

Plans to design the world’s largest open access offshore wind turbine drive train test rig have been announced by the UK’s Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

Two companies – Converteam and HORIBA Instruments – are delivering competing designs for an indoor test-rig capable of dynamically testing a complete wind turbine drive train and nacelle with input power up to 15MW.

The rig, to be built in the UK, will support the design and manufacturing development of the next generation of very high power large wind turbines which will be capable of producing lower cost electricity from the turbine arrays outlined in the Crown Estate’s Round 3 Wind Power Offshore Programme.

The test-rig is being designed to allow the whole turbine nacelle to be tested onshore and indoors before being taken offshore, thus reducing the technical and commercial risks of mass production and deployment.

As well as providing a lower cost alternative to deploying and testing turbines offshore, it will accelerate the development of new prototypes for low cost, more reliable machines, increasing the speed of deployment of new turbines and arrays.

The test rig is planned to be built at the Narec site in Blyth, Northumberland and located alongside Narec’s rapidly expanding facilities for testing wind turbine blades and marine energy systems. The Narec site is conveniently located for access to Dogger Bank, which will be home to the largest wind array outlined in Round Three of the Crown Estate’s programme. The test rig design specification is a result of nearly two years of engineering development and industry consulation by Narec and ETI.

Regional Development Agency One North East is investing just under £10m in developing the building and infrastructure to support the new test rig, as part of its long-term strategy that has positioned North East England as a leading location for the offshore wind industry.

The two competing designs will be presented to the ETI at the end of May and it is anticipated that one preferred contractor will then be selected to procure, build and commission the test rig which should be operational by the end of 2011.

The test facility is being designed to demonstrate the reliability and performance of new technologies early on in the development process and reduce the risk involved in developing large multi-megawatt wind turbines ahead of major deployments offshore wind energy.

Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills said: "Offshore wind provides a tremendous opportunity for UK businesses. It’s a new business area, requiring new technology – the turbines needed for the UK offshore wind energy market are not yet produced anywhere on a commercial scale.

“Testing is key for manufacturers, and today’s announcement is further proof of the UK’s commitment to providing access to world-leading facilities. The drive-train facility proposed by the ETI will complement projects already underway. In December Government already announced £11.5m towards a blade-test facility at the New and Renewable Energy Centre, which will provide a capability to test blades up to 100m in length."

David Kidney, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, said: “The UK is already the world’s biggest offshore wind market – and this is only the beginning, with immense deployment expected in the coming decades. This test rig will help develop the next generation of offshore wind technology and beyond, meaning that turbine designs can be tested more quickly and cheaply. In doing this it will help the UK meet its 2020 targets and will also help develop the UK’s manufacturing capabilities in offshore wind.

“This project is also an excellent example of the Energy Technologies Institute using the commercial expertise and practical experience of its members to deliver major projects that will benefit the UK as a whole.”

ETI Chief Executive Dr David Clarke said: “We are designing this to be a world-class facility for the offshore wind industry and to support the UK Government’s target of establishing 33GW of offshore wind generating capacity by 2020.

“Developing this test-rig requires radical engineering design. With the teams from Converteam and Horiba we have two of the world’s leading engineering teams competing to create a commercially viable system for the UK.

“The ETI is uniquely placed to deliver the innovative engineering solutions such as this test facility that will accelerate the large-scale commercial deployment of affordable low carbon energy technologies and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“When complete, this world-leading facility will allow turbine manufacturers and engineering teams to test the reliability of their equipment under realistic load conditions without the expense and risk of deploying them offshore.

“It will also offer opportunities to component suppliers and research teams who will be able to test new technologies and designs more comprehensively and to offshore developers who will be able to validate the performance of equipment before putting it into service.

“It is likely to be a key component in helping to attract investment into the UK from companies looking to get involved in the offshore wind sector.”

CEO of Narec, Andrew Mill said: “We are thrilled by this announcement by the ETI to progress the design of this new test-rig.  “It is my view – shared by industry – that it is the proving of these new technologies before they are installed offshore that will be the critical factor in accelerating the rate of installations and reducing the lifetime costs of new wind farms.

“As an advisor to policy makers and a development partner with the wind industry, Narec is creating a national technology advancement hub for the industry in North East England, to prove and accredit new machines ahead of their roll-out offshore.”

Ian Williams, Director of Business and Industry at One North East, said: “This latest development at Narec is excellent news and will further strengthen our ability to attract new investment into the region.

“The innovation and test facilities at Narec are world class, and this test rig is expected to be a major new asset for the North East and for the UK. The region has a unique and comprehensive package of test facilities, technical expertise, flexible skills and ready-made manufacturing sites for the offshore wind industry.

“One North East has been investing and building world class capability in the offshore industry since 2002. This long-term strategy has not only created this international facility for the UK, but has put the region in pole position to take advantage of significant new job creation opportunities.”

Phil Scott, Business Manager, Energy at Converteam said: "We believe this project will be a national asset as well as a global reference site for the renewable market and it is an exciting opportunity for Converteam to provide an innovative solution based upon their own designed and manufactured technologies. Our expertise comes from a long history of providing customised solutions to a variety of markets including offshore, renewables and test benches."

HORIBA Executive Vice President and General Manager, Rex Tapp said: “We are pleased to have been awarded this key contract by ETI to design the world’s first open access offshore wind turbine test system. This opportunity is a natural fit with our innovative drive train testing technology strengths and we are excited to contribute our talents for the improved success of the wind turbine industry.”

The Energy Technologies Institute is a UK based company formed from global industries and the UK Government. The ETI brings together projects and partnerships that create affordable, reliable, clean energy for heat, power and transport.

The ETI brings together the complementary capabilities of global industrial groups – BP, Caterpillar, EDF Energy, E.ON , Rolls-Royce and Shell – in a unique approach with the UK government. The ETI’s public funds are received from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills through the Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Operating at a national strategic level it is delivering large scale complex engineering solutions for the UK energy system helping to meet 2050 challenges.

The harsh operating conditions and logistics of operating and maintaining machines far from shore drives up the generating cost of offshore wind. In particular, drive train failure has a significant impact on the economics of offshore installations. For example, gearbox problems account for approximately 20% of turbine failures.

Other test facilities are either dedicated to single companies and therefore not open access, smaller in size or of a significantly reduced testing capability that may not mimic offshore conditions. The UK has Europe’s biggest wind resource, but no dedicated full turbine test facility.

The ETI is addressing all aspects of the UK energy system – Power, Heat, Transport and the associated infrastructure and its key programme areas are currently Offshore Wind, Marine, Distributed Energy, Buildings, Energy Storage and Distribution, CCS, Transport and Bio. 

In 2009 the ETI announced more than £54m of projects in its programme areas covering offshore wind, marine, transport, distributed energy, carbon capture and storage and energy storage and distribution.

The ETI will demonstrate technologies, develop knowledge, skills and supply-chains, inform the development of regulation, standards and policy, and so accelerate the deployment of affordable, secure low-carbon energy systems from 2020 to 2050.

In selecting projects for funding, the ETI aims to achieve a number of key objectives, including demonstrating energy technologies and systems, improving energy usage, efficiency, supply and generation and developing knowledge, and supply chains.