Research collaboration boosts output from offshore wind

Offshore wind turbines could generate more energy and be less expensive to operate thanks to a collaboration between UK universities and energy companies.


The £7.7m partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Durham, Hull and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and Ørsted has developed ways to make wind turbines more reliable, efficient, lighter and cheaper.

A project at Sheffield’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering has made improvements to the direct-drive generator that enables wind turbines to run without a gearbox, which can be expensive to maintain and repair.

The Sheffield researchers are said to have made improvements to the materials used in many of its components, making the generator more reliable, efficient and lighter. The improvements have also reduced manufacturing costs by 20 per cent.

Academics in Sheffield’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, led by Professors Nikolaos Dervilis, Keith Worden, David Wagg and Elizabeth Cross, have created ways to monitor the health of components in wind turbines to help energy companies better predict issues and faults.

“The new technologies that we have developed use a combination of data and physics to allow us to monitor the performance of whole wind farms as well as individual components on each turbine, such as the blades and the mechanics,” Professor Dervilis said in a statement. “These advancements, along with research being carried out at Durham and Hull universities, will ensure that offshore wind turbines are operating more efficiently and for much longer periods of time. This in turn will help to reduce the UK’s reliance on non-renewable energy sources and enable a greater percentage of the UK’s overall energy usage to be provided by renewable sources.”


Dave Bould, senior project representative from Ørsted, who develop, construct and operate offshore wind farms, said: “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 [Sheffield University] 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. 

Bould continued: “Overall, improvements in health monitoring, operations and maintenance helps us to continually drive down the cost of offshore wind energy – savings that are passed on to the consumer.”

Another outcome of the collaboration has been in helping to identify where the next stages of research need to be concentrated, to allow more improvements to be developed. Funding for several follow-on projects has already been secured which the partner institutions will collaborate on. 

The partnership was funded by the UKRI Prosperity Partnership programme.