University awarded £1m to create national test facility for renewable technology

The University of Plymouth has been awarded more than £1million to create a unique facility for testing new innovations in floating offshore wind technology.

Supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project will upgrade the COAST (Coastal, Ocean and Sediment Transport) laboratory, housed within the University’s Marine Building.

It currently enables researchers to study how devices are impacted by waves and currents and, since opening in 2012, has been used to test a range of offshore renewable energy devices.

The additional investment will enable wind generation to be added, creating the UK Floating Offshore Wind Turbine Test facility within the COAST Lab’s Ocean Basin.

A first-of-its-kind facility within the UK, it will enable physical modelling experiments with wind, wave and currents simultaneously.

The data generated in these experiments will enable researchers to improve their understanding of how future technology advances could be impacted by atmospheric conditions. It will also provide a low-risk environment in which researchers from academia and industry can test new and novel concepts.

Floating offshore wind turbines are increasingly being seen as an integral element of the UK’s offshore renewable energy sector. The UK presently has the largest installed capacity of offshore wind, and it contributed around 10% of the UK's power in the third quarter of 2019.

However, the majority of existing turbines are fixed to the seafloor in water depths up to 60metres, and such sites are in limited supply.

Dr Martyn Hann, Lecturer in Coastal Engineering and Academic Lead within the COAST Laboratory, is Principal Investigator on the project. He said:

“Floating offshore wind is an exciting sector that is likely to grow significantly over the next few years. But before any device goes into the sea, physical modelling is critical, especially during the early stages of developing a new concept. Testing model devices at scale in the controlled environment of a laboratory has many advantages and this investment gives us the capability to be at the forefront of such advances.”

The new funding reinforces the University’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading centres for offshore renewable energy research and innovation. It leads the £9million Supergen ORE Hub, created in July 2018 with EPSRC funding to bring together a network of academic, industrial and policy stakeholders to champion and maintain the UK’s wave, tidal and offshore wind expertise.

Professor Deborah Greaves OBE, Head of the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics and Director of the Supergen ORE Hub, added:

“This is an exciting time for the UK’s offshore renewable energy sector. Our position as an island nation, and our engineering excellence, means we are leading the global charge in the quest for clean energy. The University – with its world-leading research, facilities and industry connections – is perfectly placed to spearhead that drive, and this new investment will enable us to be at the forefront of an emerging technological innovation.”

In addition to floating offshore wave technology, the new facility will also support research in other sectors of ocean and coastal engineering disciplines, including the oil and gas sector, tidal and solar energy, autonomous vessels, launch and recovery operations, and coastal defences.

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