Novel Finnish project pioneers ice resistant technology at offshore wind farm

The newly opened wind farm has an estimated power production in the region of 165GWh each year The newly opened wind farm has an estimated power production in the region of 165GWh each year

At the end of August, Finnish offshore wind energy company Suomen Hyötytuuli celebrated the opening of the innovative 'ice resistant' Tahkoluoto offshore wind farm, the first project of its kind anywhere in Finland.

So, what is the background to the project?  In what way has the wind farm been specifically developed to cope with icy offshore conditions?  And what are the prospects for the further expansion of the Finnish offshore wind energy industry?

The new Tahkoluoto offshore wind farm, located in the Gulf of Bothnia off the western coast of Finland, is made up of a total of 11 wind turbines, 10 Siemens SWT-4.0-130 4.2 MW offshore turbines with a rotor diameter of some 130 metres and a hub height topping out at 90.75 metres - which were installed throughout the summer of 2017 - as well as a further Siemens 2.3 MW turbine, initially installed in 2010 as part of a pilot project designed to test foundations in icy conditions.

As Toni Sulameri, Managing Director at Suomen Hyötytuuli, explains, the newly opened wind farm has an estimated power production in the region of 165GWh each year.  It is also linked to a dedicated onshore substation via a three phase offshore cable manufactured by Prysmian Finland.  After arriving at the substation, the energy generated at the offshore site is then connected to the wider Finnish electrical grid.

As well as Siemens and Prysmian, Suomen Hyötytuuli also collaborated with a wide range of other companies to get the project off the ground - including Technip Offshore Finland, which provided the novel offshore foundations, Swedish technology company ABB Power Grids, which built the substation, and Pori Energia Sähköverkot, which assumed responsibility for grid connection.  Other participants included Luxembourg based construction engineering outfit Jan De Nul, which headed up marine operations and Finnish Sea Service, which carried out offshore cable installation, as well as Blue Water Shipping, Finland - which took control of all port operations and logistics activities.

According to Sulameri, the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy also supplied investment support to the tune of €20 million - largely in an effort to help boost the country's offshore wind power sector and spearhead an export drive, as well as to provide a timely leg up to the domestic renewable energy sector and collect valuable information relating to the best way to develop offshore wind power in the icy sea conditions around the Finnish coastline.

In addition to the fact that the Tahkoluoto project is connected to the mainland via a 240/30kV armoured marine subsea power cable, Sulameri reveals that the site differs from other offshore wind farms around the world chiefly by virtue of the gravity based steel foundations it uses.  After positioning in the sea bed, the foundations, manufactured locally by Technip Offshore Finland and specifically designed to handle ice loads, were also filled with gravel.

"Tahkoluoto is Finland's first offshore wind farm built on offshore foundations.  Conditions for offshore wind power in Finland differ from those witnessed in the North Sea.  [A combination of] a sea that freezes, a shallow coastline, a hard sea floor, less wind and wind farms that are located near to the coastline, means that conditions are different and demand a different kind of technology," says Sulameri.

In the long run, Sulameri believes that the development of such different and ice resistant kinds of technology could also help the company to foster a wide range of technological, operational and financial advantages.  In particular, he argues that the development of technological solutions specifically adapted to Arctic conditions could one day help to nurture enhanced export possibilities for those Finnish project and technology businesses interested in operating in the global offshore wind power market.

"It is also possible to increase the domestic content in the future [and] this technology makes it possible to build offshore wind power in the Baltic Sea," he says.

In his view, the Finnish domestic sector is particularly ripe for development since near shore Baltic sites are 'cheaper to construct' - mainly because he believes they enjoy more favourable wave and water depth conditions and are generally 'closer to harbour,' leading to reduced cabling costs.

"The wind farm is planned for winter operations at the sea and better availability.  Offshore wind power in Finland produces roughly one and a half times the energy of onshore wind power.  Suomen Hyötytuuli now has a concept that is ready for planning and building offshore wind power on an industrial scale," he adds.

Although Sulameri is confident of the prospects for the ongoing expansion and commercialisation of the Finnish offshore wind energy sector, he admits that the pioneering Tahkoluoto project was only made possible by overcoming a number of key challenges - not least the fact that wind energy consortiums have historically tended to be 'non-existent' around the country's coastline.

"In Finland, networks in the field of marine construction are as yet undeveloped and, although such interfaces are extremely important, they haven't been tested yet. It needed a lot of negotiations between different parties.  Despite that, the ten turbines were installed more than a week ahead of the schedule and the wind farm take over also took place ahead of time," he says.

In the future, Sulameri reveals that the company is also very interested in expanding its activities at similar offshore sites around Finland, as well as across the wider Baltic Sea area.

"We are looking forward to subsidy free investments.  With the current market price this seems to be possible after some years," he adds.

By Andrew Williams

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