June 13, 2013

The VolturnUS offshore wind turbine in Castine Bay, Maine, started producing electricity to the grid on May 13, 2013. VolturnUS is the first offshore floating wind turbine in the Americas. It was designed and manufactured at the University of Maine.

“At 12:00pm on June 13, 2013, the first offshore wind electrons flowed into the US electricity grid,” said Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Director of the Advanced Structure and Composites Center at the University of Maine and leader of the DeepCwind Consortium. The grid received the electricity from the University of Maine’s patented offshore wind turbine, the VolturnUS, which is the first of its kind in the world.

The VolturnUS, was towed nearly 30 miles from the Cianbro facility, where it was assembled in Brewer, to Castine by Maine Maritime Academy professionals. The floating trimarine unit is now anchored off the coast of Castine, Maine in 80 ft of water.

The biggest test for VolturnUS so far happened while the unit was being towed to Castine. A storm brought 4- to 6-foot waves which is the equivalent of the full-size turbine, of over 600 feet, standing up to 32- to 48-foot waves.

“That’s a hurricane-type wave,” said Dagher. “This unit saw its equivalent, and while the trailing tugboat was swaying back and forth, it was barely moving.”

That stability is due to the VolturnUS unique tri-marine concrete/composite platform which took countless tests, calibrations and engineering puzzles to perfect.

Dr. Dagher was joined by Peter Vigue, President and CEO of the Cianbro Corporation, Jake Ward, UMaine Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development, and Dr. William J. Brennan, President of Maine Maritime Academy, off the coast of Castine, aboard an MMA vessel to watch history in the making as the turbine began sending electricity to Central Maine Power by way of an undersea cable. The vessel was anchored alongside the VolturnUS 1:8, a 65-foot-tall prototype floating turbine that is 1:8th the scale of a 6-megawatt (MW), 423-foot rotor diameter design.

UMaine plans to deploy two full scale turbines in the Gulf of Maine by 2016. By 2030, the university hopes to install about 170 6-megawatt turbines in a floating offshore wind farm, each turbine would be taller than the Washington Monument and would provide enough electricity to power about 2,000 homes. The VolturnUS 1:8 prototype will provides enough electricity to power only about four or five homes.

The VolturnUS technology is the culmination of six years of collaborative research and development conducted by the University of Maine-led DeepCwind Consortium. The DeepCwind Consortium is a unique public-private research partnership funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation-Partners for Innovation program, Maine Technology Institute, the State of Maine, the University of Maine and includes more than 30 industry partners.

“The [VolturnUS] offshore wind project represents a critical investment to ensure America leads in this fast-growing industry, to bring tremendous untapped energy resources to market and create new jobs across the country,” said Jose Zayas, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office, recently visited Maine for the turbine’s launch, held at Cianbro in Brewer on May 31st.

Data acquired during the 2013 deployments will be used to optimize the design of UMaine’s VolturnUS system. The program goal when the technology is scaled up is to reduce the cost of offshore wind to compete with other forms of electricity generation with no subsidies.

Following this test deployment, the next step for the team is to build two 6 MW VolturnUS floating turbines to be moored off Monhegan Island in 2016. Design for these giant turbines is currently underway, funded in part though a DOE competition called the Advanced Technology Demonstration Program for Offshore Wind.

The UMaine Composites Center has partnered with industry leaders to invest in this 12 MW, $96 million pilot farm called New England Aqua Ventus I. The deployments this summer will de-risk UMaine’s VolturnUS technology in preparation for connecting the first full-scale unit to the grid in 2016.

Maine has 156 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity within 50 miles of its shores, that’s the equivalent of 156 nuclear power plants worth of energy. Maine plans to deploy 5 GW of offshore wind by 2030. The 5 GW plan could potentially attract $20 billion of private investment to the state, creating thousands of jobs.