The AIRE project is dedicated to the development of innovative software models incorporating novel technologies. These models will factor in long-term wind turbine operations and account for extreme weather conditions (in diverse terrains and altitudes). AIRE is gathering valuable data from four experimental sites and four commercial wind farms. This is a blog series where all the eight sites, that are part of the AIRE project, will be presented. In this occasion, this entry is presenting the test site of Levenmouth (UK), the experimental real-ocean test site managed by the project partner ORE Catapult.

Offshore Wind Site – Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine

Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult is the UK’s leading technology innovation and research centre for offshore renewable energy. The Catapult combines its unique research-engineering capacities with wind sector innovation technology innovation and stakeholder ecosystem building. This blog post focuses on ORE Catapult’s Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine and its participation within AIRE, a project understanding atmospheric impacts on wind turbines.

1. Overview

Located off the Fife coast in Scotland, ORE Catapult’s Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine (LDT) is the world’s most advanced, open-access offshore wind turbine dedicated to R&D, shown in Figure 1. Unique among offshore wind testing facilities, the towering 7MW machine plays host to some of the industry’s most exciting innovations for testing and validation.

Figure 1. ORE Catapult’s 7MW offshore wind turbine at Levenmouth.

2. Site Purpose and Objectives

Since 2016, LDT has attracted and partnered with 98 SMEs for technology development, testing or demonstration. A large aspect of this is for robotics and automation, which ORE Catapult believes can cut inspection costs by 40%. The LDT trials drones, blade crawlers and autonomous vessels supporting the creation of an industry baseline for inspection quality. The turbine is exposed to North Sea offshore conditions, and therefore, any data from the 800+ sensors located on site provide developers and manufacturers with the datasets to validate new technology, supporting the operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms. These research objectives include the validation of sensor technology, testing of leading-edge erosion protection and characterisation of an offshore environment amongst many others.

It is also a key asset in our own core research and development programme with 45 projects completed or under contract at the facility. Amongst these projects is AIRE, a European project which aims to reduce wind energy costs by 5% and increase annual energy production by 4%.

3. Technology

ORE Catapult is a specialist in leading edge erosion with a wealth of knowledge gained from commercial projects that have utilised ORE Catapult’s assets including onshore and offshore met masts, the blade erosion test rig (BETR), Figure 2, natural and accelerated weathering and LDT, where leading-edge protection (LEP) products are tested in-situ. Past research funding has been directed towards improving the fundamental understanding of blade erosion, including offshore environmental conditions; degradation of the coatings under the combined influence of offshore weathering and rain impact conditions; properties of coatings at high strain rates and improved accelerated test methodologies with correlation between accelerated testing and real conditions. The objective of this ongoing research aligns well with AIRE’s mission to decrease blade operational and maintenance costs through improved blade durability. This synergy is the driving force behind our active participation in the project.

Figure 2. R&D Test Systems Blade Erosion Test Rig installed at ORE Catapult’s facilities in Blyth.

4. ORE Catapult’s Impact on AIRE

In AIRE, ORE Catapult participates within WP2 (Experimental study of atmospheric wind flow including real climate conditions), WP3 (Development and extension of numerical models) and WP6 (Improvement of wind turbine blade design for operation in real climate conditions).

  • In WP2, ORE Catapult is developing a unique set of offshore environmental data from the 7MW Levenmouth demonstrator turbine (LDT), including lidar inflow and wake, combined with precipitation and UV data that will contribute into the development of erosion tools within the project and a comparison study between the AIRE sites.
  • In WP3, ORE Catapult is participating in a validation case study for blade erosion lifetime prediction models, contributing to an erosion risk atlas that can advise potential developers.
  • In WP6, ORE Catapult will develop a combined rain erosion and weathering test methodology based on realistic wind turbine operational conditions but accelerated only using test conditions which don’t alter material behaviour from reality. The developed test method will be validated using the same coatings applied on the LDT turbine.

5. Conclusions and Next Steps

Continued efforts to further characterise LDT will make a valuable addition to the project’s offshore data component. This contribution plays a crucial role in the ongoing refinement and validation of key models, in line with AIRE’s objectives to decrease blade operational and maintenance costs. Our ongoing partnership within AIRE and future projects that emerge, will continue to strengthen collaboration within the offshore wind industry.

ORE Catapult eagerly anticipates the challenges ahead to deepen the industries comprehension of blade erosion and, in turn, deliver tangible cost-saving benefits to O&Ms and developers.

AUTHOR: Peter Kinsley

EDITORIAL: María Francisca Paz y Miño

December, 2023