Henrik Baltscheffsky, chief executive of Hexicon, the company working towards the installation of a twin-turbine floating offshore wind demonstrator off the coast of Scotland, started his career in the shipping industry in Sweden back in the 1980s. Later, he moved into floating production systems for the offshore oil and gas sector, developing a CV that provides him with an in-depth understanding of large floating structures and how they can be applied in the power generation sector. The founders of Hexicon also have similar backgrounds in shipping and the offshore oil and gas sector and formed the company with the aim of developing floating platforms for the renewables market as a whole. Over the last three years with Mr Baltscheffsky at the helm, the company has honed its business plan and has arrived at a point where next year it hopes to be in a position to install a twin-turbine floating offshore wind unit off Dounreay in Scotland.
Mr Baltscheffsky says Hexicon came to the conclusion that a two-turbine floating solution had a number of potential advantages that simply cannot be ignored. One of the foremost of these is that it will enable a large number of turbines to be installed in a smaller area than would otherwise be the case, another is that the industrial approach the company is taking to manufacturing the floating unit would drive down costs and a third is that the turbines could be installed on the floating platform in a sheltered environment at a quayside. From this flow other benefits, not least that the fully assembled floater, with turbines in place, can then be towed into position, avoiding complex, time-consuming and ultimately costly operations offshore with expensive installation vessels. There are many other advantages too, he says. The platform on which the turbines are mounted also provides a safe working environment for turbine technicians when maintenance is required. It could even provide accommodation for them, he says. “As you can see, there really are a lot of advantages of our concept,” he told OWJ. “Another is that the same platform that is used for the turbines could also be used for wave power technology in a combined wind and wave power platform.”
Underlying the development of the platform – and others like it – is the fact that, although most of the turbines that have been installed to date in the North Sea region are fixed units installed in relatively shallow water, there is a huge wind resource in many other parts of the world in deep water. Mr Baltscheffsky cites the Mediterranean – which is much deeper than the North Sea – as an example. Japan is another, but there are lots of potential sites that are currently off limits to fixed foundations where floaters can play a role. As Mr Baltscheffsky notes, although the Dounreay Trì demonstrator will use a couple of 5MW turbines, the platform is quite capable of taking 5–8MW units or even larger turbines, such as the 10MW turbines that are being studied in many countries. The company completed a scoping report for the proposed demonstrator at the end of 2015 and has completed all of the surveys required at the site. Marine Scotland is due to begin assessing the project shortly, and if approval is forthcoming – hopefully around March 2017 – the first Hexicon floater could be in the water later that year.
Of course, a project such as this is fairly capital intensive, but Hexicon has undertaken it pretty much on its own, with funding from its backers, a number of whom are also well known players in the shipping sector. Hexicon has benefited from a research and development grant from Innova in Sweden and support from the Swedish Engineering Foundation, but the whole effort is essentially privately funded. Mr Baltscheffsky said the site itself was carefully selected to avoid conflict with other users of the offshore environment. This was one reason that Dounreay Trì Ltd, the company created by the Swedish design and engineering company for the purpose of demonstrating the semi-submersible foundation, opted not to use a site offshore Aberdeen, given the other uses of the area. It is also not too far offshore – around 9km in fact – which will mean that bringing power from the turbines ashore is less of an issue than it might have been. A single export cable will bring the power to shore at or close to Sandside Bay with an associated onshore electrical infrastructure to connect the project at or near the existing substation at Dounreay.