TU Delft intensifies research into floating wind turbines
If it is up to the European Commission, all the energy used will come from renewable sources by 2050. Achieving this goal will require the large-scale use of floating wind turbines, says Axelle Viré, wind expert at TU Delft. ‘Although the technology is still in its infancy, it has enormous potential,’ she explains. ‘To capitalise on this potential, TU Delft is launching the Floating Renewables Lab: a lab facility that will tie together all the elements of the development chain for floating wind turbines and other offshore renewables with the help of numerical models and AI.’
The Dutch are lucky. They live on the shores of a shallow sea, where it is easy to anchor wind turbines to the seabed. However, much of the world’s oceans are too deep for this, says Viré. ‘Once the sea gets deeper than about fifty metres, you can no longer attach the turbines to the seafloor, or in any case only with additional difficulty, and uneconomically. Instead, you have to erect them on floating platforms that are kept in place with cables and anchors.’ It is a technique that is still in its infancy, but for which there is now a lot of interest. The European Commission has proposed to increase Europe’s offshore wind capacity from the current 12 GW up to 400 GW by 2050, of which one third is expected to be generated by floating wind turbines. This will be complemented with 40 GW of emerging technologies such as ocean energy and floating solar power.
From A to Z
As far as Viré is concerned, the brand-new Floating Renewables Lab has a clear role in realising this ambition. ‘The Floating Renewables Lab represents almost the entire wind turbine development chain, from A to Z. At TU Delft, for example, they are investigating what the best cables are for attaching to the seabed, and also how to position all those floating wind turbines in relation to each other. Studying these details enables them to substantially increase energy efficiency. Steering the wake – the suction created by the turbine as the water flows past it – is a good example of this. Floating offshore wind turbines offer more degrees of freedom to play with control, such as deliberatively adjusting the angle of the wind turbine in relation to the wind, so that the wake from the turbine is partly or entirely steered around the next turbine, leading to more energy gains.’
Magic number eight
What makes the Floating Renewables Lab unique is that it is a combination of eight existing facilities, with their own unique features. ‘It is not unique that the Faculty of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering (3mE) has a towing tank, where research is carried out into how floating wind turbines behave when huge waves form, for example,’ says Viré. ‘Nor is it unique that Civil Engineering and Geosciences (CEG) has a huge hexapod – a six-legged robot measuring 6 by 5 by 3 metres – with which we can improve the construction of the turbine. Nor that the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering (AE) is conducting research into the aerodynamic properties of floating turbines. No, the uniqueness lies in the fact that all these facilities are tied together in a virtual network. Some parts of the system are physically tested, while others are simulated using numerical models that can control the hexapod, for example. This requires fast and very accurate models. AI research can work as a catalyst here, allowing us to make these real-time models better and better.’
Accelerating the energy transition
Record-breaking temperatures, extreme droughts, floods, melting sea ice, fierce winds: radical weather conditions are becoming more and more frequent and have a devastating effect on our lives. If we do nothing, our planet will become uninhabitable before we know it. It is with good reason that, during the Paris Climate Change Conference and the subsequent Climate Summit in Glasgow, almost all the countries in the world agreed to keep global warming below two degrees.
TU Delft has all the expertise in-house needed to play an important role in achieving this goal and accelerate the energy transition. With around a thousand researchers, TU Delft is one of Europe’s largest research institutes in the field of energy. Our staff and students are inventors, designers, creators and implementors of innovation. Whether it be wind and solar energy, hydrogen, new synthetic fuels, or nuclear energy, we have it all in-house. From fundamental research to applied research and back again. All these activities are carried out in the characteristic TU Delft way: with our sleeves rolled up and ready to get stuck in. We cooperate with companies, policymakers, business developers and social scientists from all over Europe – in fact, from all over the world. The ultimate goal? A clean, safe and affordable future for us all.
There are only a few places in the world where such research into floating wind turbines is being conducted at this scale. But the Floating Renewables Lab is also a unique opportunity for the education programme. ‘We can show students how – by connecting different facilities together – we turn wind into Watts,’ explains Viré. ‘In addition, we hope to connect our lab to the facilities of partner research institutes and companies. The Offshore Wind Q-meeting on Wednesday 20 April, initiated by Siemens and Van Oord, is a good first step. TU Delft will host this edition of the meeting. This meeting underpins our belief that intensive cooperation with the industry, governments and NGOs is imperative and inevitable if we want to make an impact in the field of research and innovation.’
For questions about the Floating Renewables Lab and accelerating the energy transition, please contact:
Tech for Energy
In the Netherlands, we are on the verge of a fundamental energy transition. To reduce our CO2 emissions, limit global warming and leave a livable planet for future generations. Day in day out, Delft scientists are working on projects that speed up this process. With the Tech for Energy campaign, Delft University Fund is contributing to this research and to the university's ambition to play a pioneering role in the Netherlands. The first project supported by the University Fund is the 24/7 Energy Lab. Read more about the University Fund's Tech for Energy campaign at the link below.