Innovation centre aims to boost offshore wind collaboration

The Centre will be built at Bridgehead near the Humber Bridge
The Centre will be built at Bridgehead near the Humber Bridge
The project partners include some illustrious names
The project partners include some illustrious names

A consortium of UK organisations has announced that it had secured £4 million in funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to build the Aura Innovation Centre (AIC).

The funding will also 'provide a programme of innovation support for Humber-based SMEs in the offshore wind and low carbon sectors.'

As Ben George, the new Aura Director, explains, the Centre is designed to act as a 'catalyst for collaboration bringing together multidisciplinary excellence, knowledge and innovation for the industry' - with the key goal of further cementing the UK's position as a 'world-leader in the offshore wind sector, supporting the Government's Industrial Strategy.'

In addition to the University of Hull, other partner organisations include: Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, Ørsted, the universities of Sheffield and Durham, as well as the National Oceanography Centre and other expert organisations, including the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and CATCH (an industry led training partnership).  The development of the AIC will also be supported by a further £2.5 million from Green Port Hull and £5.5million match funding from the University of Hull.

The Centre, which will be built at Bridgehead near the Humber Bridge, will also provide a focus for SMEs to drive innovation through collaboration in the low-carbon energy sector. Construction on the centre will start at the end of 2018 with completion expected at the end of 2019.

According to George, the key objectives of the Centre are to: support low carbon innovation by fostering research collaborations and promoting knowledge exchange, stimulate SMEs to access innovation expertise and promote the low carbon agenda.  The AIC also aims to bring together UK and international leaders in wind energy and low carbon sectors enabling SMEs to benefit from supply chain opportunities, showcase low carbon innovations, host sector events and facilitate information exchange and networking - and support SMEs to 'accelerate their innovations and progress collaborative low carbon research outcomes towards market readiness.'

"The AIC staff will be developing a one-stop shop where collaboration can happen easily to kick-start the low-carbon energy supply chain here in the Energy Estuary.  By bringing together all the different players to develop a robust and sustainable network, we will ensure that the UK continues to lead the way in offshore wind, regionally, nationally and globally," says George.

Looking forward, George believes there is 'much opportunity' in the offshore wind industry - and he singles out operations and maintenance (O&M) as a major growth area as construction is completed on the larger offshore wind fields.

"Operators will also be looking to re-power as fields come towards the end of life - and there will be growth in post warranty O&M as fabricator warranties on turbines come to an end," he says.

As fields mature, George also predicts that new ownership models - involving financial investors and pension funds - will become more common and there will be greater learning from other sectors such as oil & gas.

"Standardisation of standards and procedures will be needed, particularly in the areas of health and safety.  Exporting UK knowledge and expertise to foreign markets will also develop as the sector matures," he adds.

Although confident about the long-term growth prospects, George admits that several challenges still remain, including the need to operate at greater scale and in deeper waters further offshore - and the commoditisation of O&M at 'ever increasing scales.'  He also stresses that the logistics of working offshore will 'become more complex as workers spend longer offshore.'

"These challenges will be overcome through collaboration, learning from other sectors and industries, investment in innovation and standardisation," he adds.

By Andrew Williams

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