A boat with suspension inspired by Paris Dakar winning rally cars that can remain stable and a ‘seahorse’ vessel consisting of a towering keel that minimises movements in the ocean swell, are two of the six innovative concepts that will receive further funding from the Carbon Trust’s Offshore wind Accelerator (OWA), its flagship collaborative RD&D programme.

The six designs are part of a project to solve the problem of transferring engineers and equipment safely on to wind turbines as far as 300km offshore in wave heights up to around three metres.

The project aims to improve the economics of offshore wind by keeping turbines generating electricity in the harshest sea conditions to increase revenues by as much as £3bn for the next generation of the UK’s offshore wind farms.

Through its Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) programme, the Carbon Trust is leading an industry collaboration of eight UK wind farm developers – E.ON, DONG Energy, Mainstream Renewable Power, RWE Innogy, ScottishPower Renewables, SSE Renewables, Statkraft and Statoil – to dramatically reduce the costs of offshore wind.

Today’s offshore wind farms are typically less than 25km offshore in relatively benign sea conditions, and consist of up to 100 turbines. Maintenance is possible in boats about 90% of the time when wave heights are up to about 1.5m. The new ‘round three’ offshore wind projects will be as far as 300km offshore in rougher sea conditions, and may consist of as many as 2,500 turbines. At these sites, today’s access systems would only allow transfers about 210 days a year. The aim of the access project is to find and commercialise concepts to make transfers possible for a minimum of 300 days a year.

Phil de Villiers, head of Offshore Wind at the Carbon Trust, said, “Bringing down the cost of offshore wind is an absolute priority for the industry. By increasing the accessibility of Round 3 turbines by up to a third these six designs could play an important role in improving the economics of offshore wind and helping to keep our engineers safe far out to sea.”

The overall aim of the access project is to increase turbine availability by four percent through the development of these new technologies. This in turn could cut turbine down-time, saving £3bn of lost generating revenue over the lifetime of Round 3 wind farms, and help to reduce the levelised cost of offshore wind. This improvement in availability would also save an extra 1.3Mt CO2 per year.

The global market opportunity for these wind turbine access solutions is estimated to be worth over £2bn by 2020 and according to Carbon Trust research, the UK market alone could account for up to 50% of that. The six companies will receive total combined financial support of £650,000, as well as technical support from the eight developers in the Offshore Wind Accelerator. The six concepts have received financial and technical support from OWA since summer 2011. This has allowed concept design and tank testing to be completed, and the next stage of funding will help to de-risk the concepts so that they are ready to be taken up by vessel owners and operators – as has happened earlier this year with Fjellstrand.