The brainwaves that could save offshore wind farms £3bn

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The Independent Online

A boat with a giant robotic arm and a "seahorse" vessel could generate £3bn of revenues a year by making it considerably easier to mend and maintain the next generation of mega offshore wind turbines.

The Carbon Trust is running a competition to solve the problem of getting engineers and their equipment safely on to wind turbines and has shortlisted 13 designs for potential development.

At the moment, most offshore wind farms are within 25km of the coast, making them relatively easy to access. Using existing boats and maintenance equipment, engineers are able to work in waves up to 1.5m high, meaning they can reach and board most existing wind tubines around 330 days a year.

However, the new generation of "round three" offshore wind farms will lie as far as 290km out to sea, where conditions are much rougher and the existing maintenance equipment would only function about 210 days a year. They will also be much bigger – housing as many as 2,500 turbines, compared with fewer than 100 at those nearer the shore – significantly increasing the need for maintenance.

The Carbon Trust has challenged designers to come up with a variety of equipment which would enable engineers to do their jobs in waves up to 3m high, allowing them to carry out maintenance for 300 days a year. It calculates the development of such equipment would increase "turbine availability" by 4 per cent, allowing wind farms to increase annual energy generation revenues by about £3bn.

The shortlisted designs include a giant robotic arm for transferring engineers and equipment to the turbine base, a "seahorse" vessel consisting of a towering keel which minimises movements in the ocean swell and a giant harbour mothership which would act as a hotel for engineers for weeks at a time, dispatching smaller daughter craft to access the turbines.

The Carbon Trust estimates offshore wind power represents a huge opportunity for Britain that, by 2050, could have created up to 230,000 jobs and be generating annual revenues of £170bn.