Professor Sanjay Arwade of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department is a co-principal investigator on a multi-disciplinary, inter-institutional team of engineers, scientists, and social scientists that last August was awarded a $100,000 NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) Planning Grant to identify with industry partners the key priorities for offshore wind research. As the abstract for the NSF award explains the vast potential for offshore wind energy (OWE), “The U.S. OWE resource is enormous and could provide 10 to 20 times the national need for electricity.”
The UMass portion of the team also includes Alison Bates, Environmental Conservation and School of Earth & Sustainability. The principal investigator is Daniel Kuchma, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts University.
One of Arwade’s areas of research expertise is using innovative simulation methods to analyze the reliability of structural support systems in offshore wind turbines.
As Arwade explains, “Wind turbine research has concentrated largely on the energy producing turbine itself, yet construction of the support structure can contribute up to 25 percent of the total life-cycle cost of an offshore turbine. I am working with collaborators on new methods for multi-physics, probabilistic simulation of offshore wind turbine support structures to allow designers to use quantitative risk-based approaches to design such structures.”
Arwade’s research is one key component of the NSF proposal. The abstract explains that “This ERC planning grant project will bring together those with relevant expertise in OWE from several engineering disciplines, fields of science, the national laboratories, state and federal resource management agencies, industrial stakeholders, and developers; as well as those from affected coastal communities.”
This diverse group will design a data-driven, multi-disciplinary, system-level framework that identifies where advances are needed to build a resilient infrastructure (blades, turbine, support structure, transmission grid, standards, and models) that would enable a large and responsible level of OWE to be harvested.
As the abstract observes, “The technical areas to be integrated together in this frame will include materials, aerodynamic modeling, geotechnical engineering, stability, fatigue, corrosion, inspection, control, renewable energy integration, social acceptance of OWE development, and impact on marine and coastal ecosystems.”
The team of researchers notes that the OWE industry in Europe is booming and has reduced electricity generation costs to less than ten cents per kilowatt hour. However, the team says, “The U.S. is just starting to develop this resource, does not yet have an industrial supply chain for OWE, and there are unique U.S. challenges because of hurricanes, complex seabed conditions, and grid integration. In order to address these challenges, and to design resilient and cost-effective heavy OWE infrastructure (e.g., structures, transmission system), a convergent approach is needed.”
That “convergent approach” is precisely what the NSF grant undertakes. “Failure for the U.S. to take this approach, to plan accordingly, to maximize continuous learning, and to take disruption actions when needed,” as the research team contends, “would be a hugely missed opportunity for society to benefit from the breadth of U.S. expertise and knowhow and to make technological advancements that have broad applications.” (February 2019)