WindFloat: deepwater, floating wind turbines

An American and a Portuguese company venture to build the world's first floating wind farm. A recent study says it just may be possible.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

Every day since April 20th, we've been shown what can happen when something goes terribly wrong on a deep-sea, floating oil rig. But what about a deep-sea, floating wind turbine? Would it topple?

According to a recent feasibility study published in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, the answer is no.

Engineers Dominique Roddier and Christian Cermelli at Marine Innovation and Technologyshowed that their buoyant, triangular platform, dubbed WindFloat, could support a 5-megawatt wind turbine. That's a big turbine, and they conducted the research on a model at a much smaller scale. Even so, the world just might see the real thing floating off the Portuguese coast in 2012.

Energias de Portugal (EDP)andPrinciple Power, a Seattle-based company that owns WindFloat's licensing, agreed last year to construct a prototype onshore, haul into waters more than 164 feet deep, and moor it to the ocean floor with cables. The three legs of the platform, set 115 feet apart, will feature a closed-loop ballast system and 80-foot-wide horizontal plates to counteract ocean's movement and hopefully, keep the platform level and the windmill upright.

Innovations, a publication of Berkeley University (alma mater of Roddier and Cermelli), quotes EDP Project Engineer Pedro Valverde:

The WindFloat platform was based on previous work for the oil and gas industry, and those results showed that, after scaling properly, it could be coupled with a wind turbine. According to the previous work developed and the proven concept, EDP had no doubts about choosing this technology.

If successful, the joint project Windplus S.A. could turn into a 150-megawatt floating wind farm. Oh, and while they're at it, Principle Power is working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to add wave power tech to their platform.

But WindFloat isn't the only deepwater turbine prototype floating around. Shown to the right are others: (from top left, clockwise)HyWind, Blue H, WindSea and SWAY.

A working, and economically reasonable, farm version of these designs could extend the wind industry's reach to places not suitable for standing seabed turbines, which need shallower ocean depths. Far offshore wind farms might also avoid lengthy legal battles concerning ocean views similar to those that stalled Massachusetts' Cape Wind project. With greater geographic flexibility, the floating farm operators could also feasibly choose areas not known for bird or marine mammal migrations. Steering clear of shipping channels and fishing grounds would also be a good idea.

The video below depicts the set up of a potential WindFloat farm.

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