Floating platform test
Allard van Hoeken
Head of New Energy
Bluewater Energy Services
A group of offshore companies has come together to realise a first-of-its-kind floating tidal energy platform. Bluewater Energy Services has developed BlueTEC, a tidal solution that will use a Damen modular barge, permanently moored offshore. Installation does not require a complex or heavy-lift vessel and technicians have easy access without the need to go below the water. The pilot project will be installed by Van Oord off the Dutch island of Texel and will aim to prove the capabilities of this new technology.
Allard van Hoeken, Head of New Energy at Bluewater Energy Services, was responsible for developing Bluewater’s tidal energy strategy back in the early 2000s. He says that the company’s experience with FPSOs in the oil & gas sector made a floating approach logical from the outset, and not only because it matches Bluewater’s area of expertise.
“In 10 years it may be good, at some locations, to go below the water with this technology. However, for now a lot of the equipment, which would become inaccessible, is unproven. First you’ve got to get everything to a stage where it’s proven maintenance free for 5 years – that’s challenging enough – and then you can think about putting it below the water. With a floating, modular system you have no need to go below the surface,” says Mr Van Hoeken.
This fact alone, he says, offers a considerable reduction in terms of cost, time and risk. Besides, there are other benefits to be had too. “Nearer the surface the current velocity is higher, most of the energy is at the top of the column – 75 percent in the top 50 percent of water. So, whilst reducing the amount of Euros spent on maintenance, you’re increasing the amount of Euros gained in kW/H.”
During the development process, Mr Van Hoeken realised that the best approach olved housing all the system’s electrics in modular containers located on board the platform. Other options were considered: “For example, our CALM buoys, but they require special transport. To get them to the other side of the world, from fabrication site to client, is very expensive. With the modular approach we have cost-efficient transportation, that can also be moved easily on shore if required.”
He approached Damen to see if this was something within their scope and was pleased to find that they already supplied a range of modular barges, well suited to the concept. “This was a real game changer,” he says. The challenge was that modular barges are, by nature, typically used for mobile applications – no one has ever tried to moor one permanently before. In fact, moored platforms for tidal energy were initially not believed to be feasible.
Most of the energy is at the top of the column – 75% in the top 50% of water
“Some people were nervous about this,” Mr Van Hoeken states. “But floating platforms are our core business. We were confident – we knew it could be done and we knew it would solve all the major issues you would otherwise face when placing new equipment out of reach on the seabed.”
The platform that the project partnership is using for the Texel installation is the smaller of two that Bluewater is taking to market. The 200kW platform is designed for remote locations with high current, but lacking sufficient demand or resources to develop coal or nuclear powered infrastructure. Bluewater has identified countries such as Fiji, Indonesia and the Philippines as likely candidates. “Currently these countries are reliant on diesel energy generation. With this platform we are under the cost of diesel generation from day one – plus this is non-polluting,” Mr Van Hoeken says.
The currents around Texel, at 2 metres per second, are not as strong as those typically found in the target areas. However, the project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of the system. “This is the chance to prove the technology – the turbines, the barge, the mooring system, installation, connecting the system and the power cable to shore and the reduced environmental impact. We want to invite visitors that will benefit from this and present them with a proven system and not one that only exists on a drawing board.” Bluewater has developed a second, larger platform with a 2MW capacity for more populated, energydemanding areas such as Western Europe.
Mr Van Hoeken says that the Texel project is extremely collaborative and he is very pleased with the relationship between Damen and Bluewater. “This is a very exciting time, enhanced by the cooperation we have with the partners. Everyone is very proactive and results oriented. We are really working well together.”