Collaboration of Universities develop ways for wind turbines to generate more energy

A UK Research and Innovation funded £7.7m collaboration between three UK universities and two global energy companies has made improvements to offshore wind turbines, which could help them generate more renewable energy in the future.

The Universities of Hull, Durham and Sheffield, along with Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and Ørsted, are contributing significantly to making the production of offshore wind energy more economical and sustainable through innovation in advanced technologies.

The collaboration, which includes several projects at each university, has developed ways to make wind turbines more reliable, efficient, lighter and cheaper.

A project at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering has made  improvements to the direct-drive generator – the technology that enables wind turbines to run without a gearbox. This is often the most vulnerable part of a turbine and can require expensive maintenance and repairs.  Improvements have also been made to the materials used in many of its components, so the generator is much more reliable, efficient and lighter. The improvements have also reduced manufacturing costs. 

Dave Bould, Senior Project Representative from Ørsted, who develop, construct and operate offshore wind farms, said: ‘The work of the University of Sheffield to develop more efficient and effective ways of monitoring the health of wind turbine blades is an exceptional example of research that can be directly applied by industry to improve commercial performance.  

‘Modern wind turbines are massive structures that, ideally, should last for the entire life of an offshore wind farm without needing replacement or significant maintenance. Replacing a structure of this size in the harsh offshore environment is a very costly and time consuming exercise that results in significant amounts of lost electricity generation. The work of the University of Sheffield directly targets improvements in early warning of potential defects in blades and helps us minimise the risk of needing to unexpectedly repair or replace components.’

The University of Hull’s Professor James Gilbert said: ‘The research at the University of Hull addressed specific challenges in design, manufacture and control of wind turbines but working with colleagues in other research groups often inspires new ideas and approaches.’

It is estimated that the cost of energy from offshore wind farms is now one quarter of what it was in 2009, thanks in part, to advancements made from these types of partnerships.

Another key outcome of the collaboration has been in helping to identify where the next stages of research need to be concentrated, to allow even more improvements to be developed. Funding for a number of follow-on projects has already been secured thanks to the excellent collaboration between all the partner institutions.



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