Oil supermajor Shell is investing $10m to form the Shell Gulf Wind Technology Accelerator programme, aiming as soon as next year to deploy a test turbine equipped for the unique challenges of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM).
Shell New Energies will make the investment as part of a partnership with Louisiana-based Gulf Wind Technology, a major US specialist in turbine rotor systems.
The GoM holds over 500GW of technical potential and interest has ramped in anticipation of this year's upcoming federal auction for offshore wind acreage.
The region’s wind speeds average less than 8 metres per second (m/s), however, compared to around 9-9.5m/s in the waters of the US industry’s current commercial heartland in the northeast, and over 10 m/s in the nascent waters off California.
Conversely, hurricanes routinely sweep across its waters and turbines will have to withstand gusts as high as 80 m/s in category-five storms.
“Seasonal hurricane conditions and moderate average wind speeds create a situation that requires a novel approach to the application of technology and the framework in which it is both developed and demonstrated,” said James Martin, GWT CEO.
The collaboration will “develop, test and implement the first suite of optimised technical solutions for a Gulf of Mexico-specific wind turbine” as early as 2024, GWT said.
Shell “has a long history of developing energy projects, including advancing and proving deep-water technologies,” said Amanda Dasch, vice president for Shell Offshore Power Americas.
“We see opportunities to do the same for offshore wind in this region.”
Hurricane intensity, frequency, and duration have all surged in the US Atlantic since the 1980s, according to the third US National Climate Assessment report, which forecasts that “hurricane intensity and rainfall are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm”.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) predicts that offshore wind hurricane resiliency will potentially incorporate “smaller blade profiles, fewer blades, highly ruggedised sensors, active advanced load control systems, uninterruptible yaw positioning, or other features that are not found or needed in turbines operating in the North Sea” off northern Europe.
The incubator will also focus on workforce development. A shortage of skilled and qualified offshore wind installers and technicians is a growing concern for the industry as it ramps across three coastlines.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), regulator of energy development on the federal outer continental shelf, issued a proposal last month to sell between one and three leases in two designated wind energy area (WEAs) in the Gulf coast covering a combined 700,000 acres (2,832km2) of shallow waters.