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Cutting Edge - Sea change for offshore electricity

MATERIALS

RESEARCHERS at an American university have developed designs that will allow offshore wind turbines to be sited miles out to sea.

Currently wind turbines are limited by the fact that they are fixed to the sea bed, a system that works only in water depths of around 15 m.

But Professor Paul D Sclavounos at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has hit on the idea of using large platforms, similar to those used for deep sea oil and gas exploration, to sit the turbines on.

The MIT research team and wind turbine experts at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory designed a system that uses a tension leg platform. Steel cables connect the corners of the platform to a concrete block or other mooring system on the ocean floor.

The system can help cut the cost of offshore wind farms because there is no expensive supporting tower.

He said: 'The platform and turbine are supported not by a tower but by buoyancy, and you don't pay to be buoyant.'

The mounted turbine could be used in depths of up to 200 m, according to the design team, and be sited as far as 150 km from the shore. The team also used a massive experimental 5 MW turbine - almost 1.5 MW larger than conventional offshore systems and more than three times as big as onshore units - and designed the system so that it could be towed out to site from land.