University of Maine Demonstrates Floating Wind Turbine, Aims for Massive Offshore Structures

Researchers at the University of Maine have successfully demonstrated a 13-foot-tall floating wind turbine, a crucial step towards developing massive 700-foot-tall structures that can harness offshore wind energy and combat climate change, with the potential to power millions of homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This description focuses on the primary topic of floating wind turbines, the main entity of the University of Maine, and the context of offshore wind energy and climate change. It also highlights the significant action of the successful demonstration and the implications of this technology on reducing emissions and powering homes. The description provides objective and relevant details that will guide the AI in creating an accurate visual representation of the article's content, such as the size and scale of the turbines, and the ocean setting.

Nitish Verma
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University of Maine Demonstrates Floating Wind Turbine, Aims for Massive Offshore Structures

University of Maine Demonstrates Floating Wind Turbine, Aims for Massive Offshore Structures

In an indoor pool at the University of Maine, engineers have successfully demonstrated a 13-foot-tall (4-meter-tall) floating wind turbine, designed to withstand powerful water and wind conditions. This technology aims to harness offshore wind energy and combat climate change by developing massive 700-foot-tall (210-meter-tall) structures that could be deployed in the ocean beyond the horizon.

Why this matters: The development of massive offshore wind turbines has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. If successfully implemented, this technology could play a crucial role in the global transition to renewable energy sources.

Researchers envision these turbine platforms, stretching over 700 feet skyward, anchored with mooring lines, and deployed in the ocean. "These would be some of the largest moving structures that humankind has endeavored to create. And there would be many of them," said Anthony Viselli, chief engineer for offshore wind technology at the University of Maine's Advanced Composites Center.

The potential for offshore wind energy is significant. In the U.S. alone, 2.8 terawatts of wind energy potential blows over ocean waters too deep for traditional turbines, enough to power 350 million homes. The first floating wind farm started operating off Scotland's coast in 2017, and the U.S. Department of Interior has proposed the first floating wind energy auctions for the Gulf of Maine, with nearly 1 million acres up for auction, capable of generating enough clean wind energy to power over 5 million local homes.

Several key players are involved in the development of floating offshore wind technology. The University of Maine is home to the nation's largest team of engineers dedicated to floating offshore wind. Equinor has installed a demonstration floating project off the coast of Norway, while Principle Power has installed small-scale projects off Scotland and Portugal. SBM Offshore has a demonstration project off France, and Gazelle Wind Power is developing a modular platform system to make manufacture and assembly cost-effective and efficient.

However, floating offshore wind is still a nascent industry, making it expensive. Some companies, like Ørsted, have decided to focus on fixed-bottom turbines due to costs and technology limitations. "We care a lot about affordability of renewable power and floating wind is a lot more expensive than bottom fixed," said Mads Nipper, CEO of Ørsted. Despite the challenges, others are moving forward, and the University of Maine has become a surprise global leader in the field.

The University of Maine launched its first floating prototype a decade ago and has several advantages in developing this technology. The Gulf of Maine has the wind energy potential of 156 nuclear power plants due to fast, consistent wind, and the state could meet all its home heating needs and power every car if they were all electric vehicles by tapping just 3% of that water. The university's Advanced Composites Center, with its wave basin that mimics ocean conditions up to a 500-year storm, takes the work done by the oil industry to the next level.

The goal is to have industrial-scale turbines of 15-20 megawatts each, with size and efficiency being keys to profitability. Larger wind turbines mean fewer are needed, reducing construction, installation, and maintenance costs. Full-size turbines generate peak power starting at about 20 mph (32 kph), and mooring lines made of rope nearly as thick as a telephone pole and under heavy tension make them safer for marine mammals.

The University of Maine's demonstration of the floating wind turbine is part of the state's efforts to build out its offshore wind sector. In 2023, Gov. Janet Mills signed a law that lays out a path to procuring a significant amount of offshore wind power in the Gulf of Maine while also ensuring strong labor standards within the industry. Sears Island is the preferred location for a designated port to support the offshore wind industry. "This is a global problem and this is an ideal solution in order to deliver power to shore," said Jon Salazar, CEO of Gazelle Wind Power.

Key Takeaways

  • University of Maine demonstrates 13-foot-tall floating wind turbine.
  • 700-foot-tall structures could be deployed in the ocean to combat climate change.
  • Offshore wind energy could power 350 million homes in the US alone.
  • University of Maine leads the nation in floating offshore wind technology development.
  • Industrial-scale turbines of 15-20 megawatts each could make the technology profitable.