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UK Creates "Living Lab" for Offshore Wind Digital Tech

Lynn wind farm
The Lynn wind farm off Skegness (Rob Farrow / CC BY SA 2.0)

Published Apr 9, 2023 9:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

A consortium led by the UK’s Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult is establishing one of the world’s biggest offshore wind ‘living labs’ in the Humber, meant to accelerate development of a new generation of digital technologies essential for the expanding offshore wind sector.

The $3.4 million project will be created off the Grimsby coast with the development of a 5G testbed. The partners include Grimsby Port and the Lynn and Inner Dowsing wind farms, together with Microsoft, Associated British Ports (ABP) and a consortium of tech and telecom companies.

The 5G testbed will allow technology providers to test and demonstrate digital operations & maintenance equipment in real world conditions, with access to reliable, high-speed communications. On average, O&M accounts for 25 percent of the total lifetime cost of an offshore wind farm, and as the sector expands, there is a strong push to reduce this cost by using robotics and autonomous solutions to support inspections, maintenance and repair. Many new digital solutions rely on the high-fidelity wireless connectivity that 5G provides. This project will create 5G infrastructure for an accessible “sandbox” for testing new technologies.

The project will be funded with $1.2m from the Innovate UK Cyber Physical Infrastructure (CPI) fund, and an expected $1.2m from the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), plus industry match funding.

“ This 5G testbed is a hugely exciting development for O&M in offshore renewable energy, as it establishes the core communications infrastructure for the biggest offshore wind ‘living lab’ in the world. The testbed will demonstrate the benefits of new remote digital solutions that require high bandwidth, low-latency wireless communications- aimed at making O&M safer, greener and more effective,” said Ben George, Head of Smart O&M at ORE Catapult.

He added that the testbed will provide a real-world development, demonstration and test zone for robotics and autonomous systems (RAS), remote sensors, wearable technology, cyber security, zero emission vessels, smart ports, and aquaculture.

To create the testbed, two 5G-technology development and demonstration zones over the existing fiber network will be built - one at Grimsby Port and the other within the Lynn and Inner Dowsing wind farms. Fifteen 5G radio transmitters will be placed across five sites including wind turbines and a radio mast, and two 5G solar powered buoys will provide an extended 5G network beyond the range of the wind farm.

Top image: The Lynn wind farm off Skegness (Rob Farrow / CC BY SA 2.0)