Smooth, Fast Ride For Offshore Wind Work

There are around 2,000 big wind turbines out on water, which translates to more than 6,000 megawatts of high-quality energy production (one German plant reported a capacity factor of 50 percent in its first year of operation).

It also translates to 2,000 potential maintenance projects, and those can often pop up in rough seas and tough weather. And that’s where the UM Wave Craft comes in to the picture. It’s a new vessel designed specifically to help service offshore wind – and with an order now on the books, it’s an example of just as green energy can bring job losses in old sectors, new industrial opportunities can also arise.

umoe mandal wave craft

The Wave Craft surface effect ship for wind turbine maintenance (image via Umoe Mandal)

The Wave Craft, developed by the Norwegian company Umoe Mandal, works by riding mostly on a cushion of air. This is called a “surface effect ship,” in which air cushion pressure is held within two sidehulls and flexible bow and stern skirts. Up to 80 percent of a vessel’s weight is lifted by the air cushion. It’s a technology that’s mostly been used for navy craft and small ferries.

“The new idea,” the company says, “is to use the same air cushion to reduce wave induced motion when accessing an offshore wind turbine. This allows transfer of personnel and cargo in larger waves than possible with current solutions.”

The company says the vessel also has the advantage of fast, offering speeds over 40 knots.

Credit for getting the Wave Craft going goes partly to the public-private U.K. consortium Carbon Trust and its Offshore Wind Accelerator, an innovation seeding project aimed at bringing the cost of offshore wind (that’s its big stumbling block) down by 10 percent by 2015. Ulmoe Mandal was a winner in a competition to improve access to wind turbines. According to Carbon Trust, four of the thirteen finalists in the competition are either in construction or built.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.