Mathematicians in the UK and France have won funding worth €1.8m to find ways of more efficiently transporting offshore wind farms, which would make green energy more affordable.
Experts in logistics from the Universities of Portsmouth, Le Havre and Plymouth are looking at reducing the cost of setting-up and maintaining offshore wind farms as part of an EU initiative. Their results could be available as early as 2015.
Offshore wind farms are a proven source of renewable energy, but the cost of transporting, assembling, and maintaining wind turbines can make them overly expensive when compared with less eco-friendly fuels.
Part of the problem is that most container ports are not set-up to handle turbine parts, which are much larger and more irregularly shaped than usual cargo. Some rotor blades reach 75 metres long, over three times larger than the average 20 metre container. A huge challenge for the industry is dealing with the logistics of these parts at the lowest possible cost.
Dylan Jones, a mathematician at the University of Portsmouth, said, “Considerable savings could be made if logistics were better used to focus specifically on transporting wind farm parts.
“For example, a large Jacob barge used to transport the parts to the offshore site and to assemble them, costs as much as €200,000 a day to hire. If the wind farm parts can be packed onto the barge in a better way or sent round the wind farm sites in a more efficient way, then the barge is needed for fewer days and considerable savings can be made.
“Every time someone loads their weekly shopping into the boot of their car they are using logistics to work out where to place each oddly shaped bag. The same principle can be applied to the problem of delivering enormous wind turbine parts all over Europe at the lowest cost.
“Some sea ports, including Ramsgate in Kent and Ostend in Belgium, have seized the opportunity and now use part of their port to deal with the wind farm parts, but to quantify the gains of logistic efficiency is difficult at the moment - that is part of what this project hopes to work out.”
The researchers will examine ways of coordinating port maintenance, driving down logistical costs, and providing suitable transportation to and from the wind farms which combined, are likely to cut the cost of producing ‘green’ electricity.
Dr Jones added, “We are hoping to make wind farm energy a more viable and affordable option in the energy market and this project also shows how maths can really influence everyday life.”