UMaine buoy system measures high-altitude wind speeds over the ocean

The invention could create a business and is a spin off from the research being conducted on offshore wind technology

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

March 13th, 2013 

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A sketch of the buoy UMaine system that would measure wind speeds over the ocean. courtesy of UMaine

“It could be another potential business here,” said the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center director, Habib Dagher.

The University is developing a new system to measure wind speeds above the ocean waves which helps potential offshore wind farm developers plan for the placement of their ocean wind turbines. Each LiDAR buoy system could potentially be sold for between $1 million and $1.5 million.

“The LiDAR will float on a buoy and shoot lasers up into the air to measure the speed of air born particles. Knowing the speed at 300 to 400 feet is really important for wind power investors,” said Dagher. “The system also has huge power requirements so we placed solar and wind panels on it for generation.”

The six small solar panels and six small wind turbines are mounted on top of a retrofitted 5,000-pound buoy 10 feet in diameter to charge the LiDAR battery. The system would be able to operate on its own for six months to a year.

“We also designed a stabilizer system to hold the LiDAR steady while the buoy moves with the motion of the waves,” said Dagher.

UMaine’s School of Marine Science’s Physical Oceanography Group has been measuring atmospheric and ocean conditions in the Gulf of Maine for more than a decade and their experience will help implement these buoy systems.

“We know what the wind speed has been at ten feet above the Gulf of Maine,” said Dagher said, “but investors need to see solid bankable data for higher altitudes.”

Countries around the world are putting resources into offshore wind farm projects. A new mobile system that could determine the best location for turbine placement would be a valuable investment as it would help generate more profits. Naturally, there are other interests working on LiDAR systems of their own.

Dagher hopes to deploy a LiDAR buoy system in the Gulf of Maine by late May or early June to become the first such system operating in the world.

LiDAR is a natural spin off for the Center, which has been at the forefront of developing and refining the technology for offshore floating wind turbines. Researchers and Maine companies now have international renowned reputations in the field. Maine has 149 gigawatts of wind energy off the coast, which is huge resource that could be harvested.

The long-term goal of Dagher’s team is to harness 5 gigawatts, or the equivalent of about five nuclear power plants, of wind energy by 2030. The plan has different stages of development that would eventually lead to placing a full-scale floating wind farm of about 170 turbines off the coast of Maine out of sight and sound. The full-scale turbines will be taller that the Washington Monument. Last December UMaine received a major $4 million federal grant for the first phase of the project which will see a 1:8-scale VolturnUS floating platform deployed by UMaine researchers this spring at the UMaine Deepwater Offshore Wind Test Site near Monhegan Island.

The long-term project would be a $20 billion construction job in Maine, creating 15,000 jobs, and transforming the state into a large-scale wind energy exporter.

“The turbines will be assembled at Cianbro and transported by barge down the Penobscot to the ocean,” said Dagher.”They will be placed in the middle of three floating sections, like trimaran hulls, that form a triangle. It’s an exciting.”