Lab takes it to the limit

Proposed centre will create a hostile offshore environment to trial turbines

HEVERLEE: Technology industry collective Sirris plans to build a first-of-its-kind testing centre on the Belgian coast to trial large next-generation offshore wind turbine components. The organisation is scouting locations for the Sirris Offshore Renewable Energy Lab (Sorel). Sirris envisages the centre having several 2.5MW turbines, as well as: n a lidar (light detection and ranging) facility to translate measurement of local wind resources into meteorological data sets and models;. n hook-ups to monitor performance and conditioning systems; and n operations and maintenance (O&M) simulators. The centrepiece of the "application laboratory" will be an extreme climate chamber in which the main components of multi-megawatt machines can be put through their paces in replicated hostile offshore conditions.. "This centre will be a place where companies can really do things, not just talk about things but test and experience the way new technologies will operate in the offshore environment," says Sirris co-ordinator Stefan Milis.. The centre's mission will be spearheading co-operative sector- specific innovation projects..

"There is no point in having good testing infrastructure without interesting R&D [research and development] projects going on to use it - privately funded, national industry programmes, FP7 [the EU Seventh Framework technology development programme], whatever it may be," Milis adds. Sorel has been given a € 4m ($5.6m) start-up budget by the Flemish government through its Generaties green-energy technology initiative. The spark of the Sorel concept came from Sirris member companies, including Belgian wind stalwarts Hansen Transmissions and engineers 3E and CG Global, and national technology federation Agoria. Sorel will be designed around the Halt (highly accelerated lifetime test) concept, with an eye on pushing prototypes to their fatigue limits in a fraction of the time it would take in normal conditions offshore. Able to simulate environments as low as -60 ¡ C, the climate chamber (measuring ten by six by 6.5 metres) will be designed as a proving ground "for every component in the modern large-scale wind turbine" weighing more than 100 tonnes. As well as gauging the effects of extreme temperature on components, the facility will offer high-power testing of the electrical and mechanical facets of a turbine.. "Everything related to O&M" is going to be key in the coming years in determining whether the offshore wind sector is going to fly or fall commercially, stresses Milis..

"There is a lot of uncertainty as to how these large-scale turbines are going to perform in the long term offshore. We have to fill in these gaps," he adds.

"If you want to test how a gearbox performs in -60 ¡ C from a cold start and run it for the equivalent of 20 years in an offshore location, where are you going to do this? As far as we know, we will be the only facility with this as part of our offering." Sorel is expected to set up shop in an existing dock complex in the coming year, with a systems-testing facility opening for business first, followed by the climate chamber in 2012. Harbour locations in the Oostende and Zeebrugge areas are among those being explored.