Meeting the national goal of generating 54GW of electricity from offshore wind sources and 20% of our total energy needs from renewable sources by 2030 requires the transformational removal of barriers to offshore wind energy development in the U.S., particularly off the Atlantic coast, where the wind resource is rich and close to major population centers. One of the most important barriers, identified by a recent National Academies report and resulting from major differences in the environment of the Atlantic coast and that of Northern Europe where 1000s of offshore turbines already generate multiple GW of electricity, is the vulnerability of Atlantic wind farms to hurricanes. The presence of hurricanes adds to the cost of energy by increasing uncertainty associated with wind farm performance and therefore the financing and insurance costs associated with offshore wind energy. These costs can compose as much as 40% of the total cost of offshore wind energy, which now exceeds the cost of traditional sources by a factor of two.
To overcome barriers to wind energy development off the coast of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, Northeastern University and UMASS-Amherst are executing a program of fundamental research into the hurricane resistant design of offshore wind turbine support structures. Our research program builds upon the bodies of knowledge associated with oil & gas platform development in the hurricane prone Gulf of Mexico, and wind energy development in the North and Baltic Seas, while addressing important differences in the dynamics of offshore wind turbine (OWT) support structures and oil & gas platforms, and also addressing the fact that European wind energy development occurs in the absence of hurricane force storms. To accomplish our goal we are working on the following integrated research tasks:
- Develop a probabilistic hurricane hazard modeling framework for the Atlantic coast
- Define a fragility analysis framework for OWT support structures including case studies of prototype support structures
- Investigate the relationships between individual turbine fragility and wind farm reliability caused, for example, by spatial correlations in the hazard
- Propose novel design details for improving the robustness of OWT support structures to combined, hurricane induced, wind and wave loading
This project is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The official project website is here.