On the bay

Model offshore wind turbine to send first electrons into U.S. grid this week

Posted:  Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 8:15am
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Maine Maritime Academy, in Castine, helped deploy the test offshore wind turbine in Penobscot Bay this past week. (Photo courtesy of John Worth)

PENOBSCOT BAY — The University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composite Center will connect its prototype offshore wind turbine to the electrical grid this week. The VolturnUS, which was anchored off Castine Harbor last week, is the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine in North America and is the product of UMaine and its collaboration with the DeepCwind Consortium.

The one-eighth-scale turbine VolturnUS 1:8 rises 60 feet above a floating concrete platform and will remain in place for 30 days.

The deployment of the turbine is part of ongoing research at the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composite Center, in Orono. There, engineers and designers are researching wind power in collaboration with the university-led DeepCwind Consortium. The consortium, funded with grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, involves public and private entities, including the National Science Foundation-Partnerships for Innovation, Maine Technology Institute, and 30 industrial partners. The goal, according to the center, is the "development of a cost-effective, job-creating, innovative U.S. offshore wind technology."

The goal also includes reducing the the cost of offshore wind to 10 cents per kilowatt hour by 2020, in order to compete with other forms of electricity generation without subsidies.

Over the past five years, the result has been the creation of UMaine's patent-pending Volturn turbine system, which will be tested off of Monhegan, as well as Castine, this year. When finished, UMaine Composites Center hopes to erect a 12 megawatt, $96 million wind power farm along the coast. The first full-scale unit hookup to the power grid is targeted for 2016, and the longterm vision is to deploy five gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. The full buildout, according to the center, could potentially attract $20 billion of private investment to the state, and create thousands of jobs.

The prototype is to be one-eighth the scale of a six megawatt, 423-foot rotor diameter design. According to the center, the VolturnUS is the first floating turbine of its kind in the world, with floating hull and tower design.

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