UMass Amherst Researchers to Study Offshore Wind Industry

James F. Manwell
James F. Manwell

UMass Amherst researchers are developing a multi-disciplinary framework for offshore wind research, focusing on increasing innovation within projects and reducing costs by examining risks, finances and regulations associated with the industry.

The Massachusetts Research Partnership in Offshore Wind, funded with $300,000 from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Renewable Energy Trust, includes six Massachusetts academic and research institutions – UMass Amherst, Northeastern University, Tufts University, UMass Dartmouth, UMass Lowell and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The funding was announced by the Baker-Polito administration as part of $700,000 for nine academic and research institutions across Massachusetts to advance studies relating to offshore wind development.

For the 18-month project, James F. Manwell, director of the Wind Energy Center in the UMass Amherst College of Engineering, will serve as team leader. Other faculty members are professors Matthew A. Lackner, Sanjay R. Arwade, Don J. DeGroot, Jon G. McGowan and Erin D. Baker. Collectively, this team has extensive experience in a wide range of offshore wind energy research areas and a long history of engagement in wind energy technology, policy, education and development.

The research team will concentrate on three areas. These include design standards. Having suitable design standards is crucial the development of the offshore wind energy industry. Design standards help to ensure that turbines and their support structures are adequate to the environmental and operating conditions they will experience but also are not inordinately expensive. They provide the framework for the designers and they also offer confidence to the lending institutions and the insurers.

In addition, the researchers will focus on wind turbine system modeling. Wind turbine technology continues to evolve, with larger rotors, taller towers and deeper‐water installations. It is critical to have accurate and efficient models of the wind turbine system behavior, especially when they are located offshore and subjected to wind, waves and currents, including hurricanes and other extreme events. UMass Amherst has significant expertise in the modeling, simulation, analysis and validation of offshore wind turbine system behavior and has collaborated with experts in Europe, industry and national labs in this area.

There will also be work on geotechnical issues. The geotechnical engineering site characterization phase of an offshore wind project provides information on seabed stratigraphic soil units and soil engineering properties for design of turbine support structures. It generally requires the use of specialized vessels/drilling platforms and, coupled with the large size of project areas, makes it a significant part of a project’s initial capital investment. This is especially the case in regions with complex geologic histories that created significant spatial variations in soil units and properties, such as the glaciated New England coastal area.