A consortium of leading British universities and European wind power companies is striving to slash the cost of offshore wind farms, focusing in particular on reductions in the size of the pile foundations of turbines.

Project PISA (Pile Soil Analysis) has been launched by an industry group led by Oxford University and Denmark's DONG Energy, with the participation of Imperial College London and University College Dublin as well as wind power firms RWE, Statoil, Statkraft, SSE, Scottish Power and Vattenfall.

The project is investigating designs for offshore wind turbines which are more efficient and lower in cost, with reductions in foundation sizes considered one of the best techniques for achieving this mission.

"The cost of energy from offshore wind turbines must be reduced," said Bent Christensen, senior vice president of DONG Energy Wind Power. "We expect to find significant savings by trimming monopile sizes and finding new ways of installing the foundations, amongst others."

Bent Christensen

Bent Christensen

Christensen is highly optimistic about the potential savings that reductions in foundation sizes can achieve for offshore wind power.

"We believe a significant contribution can come from this area towards our efforts of reducing the price of offshore wind power by 35 to 40 per cent by 2020," he said.

According to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, offshore wind power is around 2.7 times more expensive than land turbines, making the average cost around US$221 per megawatt hour over the life of a project. Offshore wind nonetheless possesses huge potential as an alternative energy source, given the propitious climate conditions for wind power on the sea, as well as the number of large-scale population centres located on coastlines.

DONG Energy points out that the considerable size and material requirements for offshore wind turbines contributes immensely to their cost. A typical offshore wind turbine has a monopile foundation weighing approximately 600 tonnes, made chiefly of steel.

When these material requirements are multiplied across a wind farm comprised of as many as a hundred or more turbines, this results in exorbitant fabrication and installation costs.

The project, which was launched on August 1 2013, will continue for 18 months and will provide funding for various academic undertakings, including two full-time post-doctoral research assistants, with the aim of eventually producing three PhD projects.

The group will publish its final reports at the outset of 2015, hopefully in time for the inclusion their technical findings in some of the UK's large-scale Round 3 offshore wind projects.