UMaine launches subscale floating wind turbine concept

VolturnUS is the first grid-connected offshore turbine in North America and is a 1:8 scale version designed to prove the viability of the design in the ramp up to a 6-MW design.

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On May 31, the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center (UMaine, Orono, Maine) launched VolturnUS, its 1:8 scale composite floating offshore wind turbine, off the coast of Maine in Penobscot Bay. The VolturnUS is the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine to be deployed in North America and is the first floating turbine of its kind in the world. Data acquired during the 2013 deployments will be used to optimize the design of UMaine’s VolturnUS system (pat. pend.). The deployments this summer, offshore of two coastal communities, Castine and Monhegan, are expected to “de-risk” the VolturnUS technology in preparation for connecting the first full-scale unit to the grid in 2016. Toward that end, the UMaine Composites Center has partnered with industry leaders to invest in a 12-MW, $96 million pilot wind farm. The program goal is to build floating offshore turbines that will compete with other forms of electricity generation without subsidies.

The 65-ft/19.8m tall subscale system prototype is based on a full-size 6-MW, 423-ft/129m diameter rotor design. It features an all-composite tower that uses advanced material systems with a unique semisubmersible hull and tower design. Ershigs (Bellingham, Wash.), a program partner, developed the tower using fiberglass from PPG Industries (Pittsburgh, Pa.). Tom Pilcher, Ershigs’ president, says, “The funding and support that we receive from PPG to advance the development of the offshore wind market is critical for success. Having the right partners ... is vital and essential to our success as a supplier of the fiberglass composite towers.”

The VolturnUS technology is the culmination of more than five years of collaborative R&D conducted by the UMaine-led DeepCwind Consortium, a public/private effort funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation-Partners for Innovation, the Maine Technology Institute, the state of Maine, UMaine and more than 30 industry partners. Maine reportedly has 156 GW of potential offshore wind capacity within 50 miles of its shores, and the state plans to deploy turbines to generate 5 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030.