GBP4 million robotics boost for offshore windfarms



A collaboration between colleagues from Heriot-Watt's Ocean Systems Laboratory (part of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics) and the Smart Systems Group has received funding to deliver a human-robotics hybrid solution for the maintenance and operation of offshore windfarms. 

The Heriot-Watt team, which includes Dr David Flynn, Dr Keith Brown and Professor David Lane, is part of a consortium of experts sharing a £4 million grant to create remote inspection and repair technologies using robotics and autonomous systems. These will be used to inspect the condition of subsea power cables, identify problems early and ultimately, extend their lifespan. 

Dr David Flynn, director of the Smart Systems Group (SSG) at Heriot-Watt University, said: “The UK government has set ambitious decarbonisation targets, increasing the present 5GW generated by offshore windfarms to 40GW by 2050. 

The costs of achieving these targets have, until now, focused on the capital outlay for wind turbines, but budgets have largely ignored the operation and maintenance of windfarm assets, including subsea cabling. 

“By integrating technologies, such as autonomous underwater vehicles and advanced sonar technology, we will gain a new insight into the condition of these subsea assets. 

Currently 70% of cable failure modes cannot be monitored in-situ, inhibiting accurate health monitoring. This exciting and highly interdisciplinary project builds on our globally recognised expertise in embedded intelligence and robotics and autonomous systems.

Dr David Flynn

"We aim to provide the UK with a competitive advantage within the highly lucrative offshore energy market. Our hybrid, human-robotics, technology will seek to protect those most vulnerable to increases in the cost of energy by reducing the costs faced by both tax and bill payers.

“The UK is leading the world in the development of remote inspection technologies, which also have significant applications in the global oil and gas decommissioning market. As the UK works towards ambitious decarbonisation targets, we expect this industry to be worth more than £2 billion per year by 2020.”

The consortium (the Holistic Operation and Maintenance for Energy from Offshore Wind Farms or HOME-Offshore) brings together internationally recognised experts from the following universities: Manchester (project lead), Warwick, Cranfield, Durham and Heriot-Watt University. 

The £4 million research grant includes a £1 million industry contribution and £3 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).