Autonomous Vehicles to Reduce Windfarms Costs


Published Feb 10, 2017 6:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

A collaboration between Heriot-Watt University's Ocean Systems Laboratory and the Smart Systems Group has received funding to deliver a human-robotics hybrid solution for the maintenance and operation of offshore windfarms. 

The U.K. government grant of £4 million ($5 million) will be used to create remote inspection and repair technologies using robotics and autonomous systems. These will be used to inspect the condition of subsea power cables, identify problems early and ultimately, extend their lifespan. 

The U.K. government has set ambitious decarbonization targets, increasing the present 5GW generated by offshore windfarms to 40GW by 2050. 

The cost of achieving these targets has, until now, focused on the capital outlay for wind turbines, but budgets have largely ignored the operation and maintenance of windfarm assets, including subsea cabling. 

“By integrating technologies, such as autonomous underwater vehicles and advanced sonar technology, we will gain a new insight into the condition of these subsea assets,” said Dr David Flynn, director of the Smart Systems Group at Heriot-Watt University.

Currently 70 percent of cable failure modes cannot be monitored in-situ, inhibiting accurate health monitoring. Flynn says: “We aim to provide the U.K. with a competitive advantage within the highly lucrative offshore energy market. Our hybrid, human-robotics, technology will seek to protect those most vulnerable to increases in the cost of energy by reducing the costs faced by both tax and bill payers.

“The U.K. is leading the world in the development of remote inspection technologies, which also have significant applications in the global oil and gas decommissioning market. As the U.K. works towards ambitious decarbonization targets, we expect this industry to be worth more than £2 billion ($2.5 billion) per year by 2020.”

The £4 million research grant includes an industry contribution and a contribution from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).