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Ice And Drones: The Future Of Wind Energy

Parts of the world with incredible wind energy potential have long been inaccessible to wind farms. But with the completion of the first offshore wind farm built to withstand ice-prone conditions, the industry has clearly evolved.

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When it comes to cold-weather climates, wind farm designers face a variety of concerns, notably the impact of low temperatures on the turbines and the collection of ice on the turbines and snow.

When the industry first began, developers knew the consequences of ice accumulation. That’s why the very first wind farm was located on Grandpa’s Knob in Rutland, Vermont. They selected this particular mountain despite more elevated ones being available precisely because they wanted to avoid the possibility of structural failure.

Today, things have changed. At the end of the summer 2017, Finland wind power production company Suomen Hyötytuuli Oy took over the country’s Tahkoluoto offshore wind farm.

The project began in 2016, with a second phase launched in April 2017. Ultimately, ten 4.2MGw turbines—designed to cope with the rough, cold and icy Finnish winters—were installed ahead of schedule.

“All of the parties have done everything possible to make this project a success,” says Toni Sulameri, managing director of Suomen Hyötytuul.

And the company doesn’t plan on stopping there.

“Suomen Hyötytuuli now has a ready concept for planning and building offshore windpower on an industrial scale,” said board chairman Tuomo Kantola. “(We) and (our) partners have significantly increased offshore windpower knowledge in the Baltic Sea and enabled offshore energy production on an industrial scale.”

And not only turbines are evolving. Technological advances in other key areas, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are being used to help the industry. According to stakeholders, UAVs are now a critical and proven part of maintenance inspections and surveys. Texo Drone Services say they are a “game-changer” in terms of cost savings, time-efficiency and risk management.

To compare man versus machine on the inspection of a turbine, the UAV takes about 75 percent less time to complete the job than a team requiring rope access, without any partial or full shutdown.

Now, the industry has companies like Inspection Ltd, with UAVs that handle heavier payloads and operate in more difficult conditions. These are machines that can deal with wind speeds a bit over 40 miles per hour, carrying a variety of weights. Innovations like these will continue to drive and accelerate the growth of wind farms in the market.

Experts say European offshore wind production must triple between now and 2045 to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

“The political will to support offshore wind goes hand in hand with cost reductions,” Michael Guldbrandtsen, managing consultant for offshore and manager of the Europe, Middle East and Africa research team at MAKE Consulting, told Green Tech Media. ““If we continue to see costs dropping, and developers show that they are capable of constructing wind farms at very low subsidy levels, then I think we could see more capacity coming on-line toward 2030.”

Where once the challenge was to get higher, the next frontier is to go deeper. That’s where floating wind farms come in. And this is only the beginning.