By Ryan Skinner (email)
The idea, says the founders, came from Statoil's difficulties installing its floating Hywind windmills two years ago. Towing the huge floating windmills out to sea while upright was slow, expensive and weather-dependent. So two students found something better: a barge that could carry them lying down, then flip itself - and the windmill - upright, on location.
That's Windflip. The two students who developed the concept at Norway's NTNU have managed to get enough start-up financing in place to look for deeper pockets further afield. And there's a good chance they'll find them.
First of all, the potential of deepsea wind mills (windmills that aren't fixed to the seabed) is probably far greater than their shoreside cousins. Why? Take the struggling windmill developments off the New England coastline as an example. Property owners and real estate developers of expensive coastline just aren't happy when their pristine view turns into an energy park.
The other big advantages are the most obvious ones: there's more space, and more wind (or, at least, more consistent wind) further out to sea. That's why at least two big engineering development outfits have launched deepsea designs: the Statoil Hywind concept and Inocean's SWAY concept.
For all the promise, there are hindrances. Power transmission is one. How do you get the power back to land? Maintenance is another. What are the long-term costs of keeping these things ship-shape. Then there's the installation costs. But Windflip may have helped to nail that particular problem.
The beauty of these barges is their speed. While an upright windmill can only be towed at 1-2 knots, the Windflip can chug along at 8 knots. That's a major difference, when it's being pulled by a tug or offshore vessel costing a hundred-thousand dollars a day.
The team behind Windflip has successfully tested the concept at SINTEF Marintek's test model basin in Trondheim and put the idea in front of some potential offshore shipowner backers.
News from Statoil indicates that the first Hywind installations are promising, and the prospects for commercial success with floating windmills are looking up. Is it time for a tipsy barge? Maybe so.