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A new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) research facility could help bring the U.S. closer to offshore wind energy development by helping to alleviate a major hurdle.

The new Reference Facility for Offshore Renewable Energy will be used to test technologies, such as remote sensing, designed to determine the power-generating potential at sites along U.S. shores, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) explains.

Questions about the accuracy of offshore data from new measurement technologies have made some investors hesitant to back offshore energy projects. Research at the new facility will help verify that the technologies can collect reliable data and help improve those technologies, which, in turn, will provide potential investors confidence when reviewing offshore wind development proposals.

Current plans are for the facility to be located at the Chesapeake Light Tower, a former Coast Guard lighthouse that is about 13 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va. Scientists representing industry, government and academia are likely to start research at the facility in 2015.

PNNL will shape and prioritize the research conducted there, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will manage the facility's remodeling and operations. PNNL will form an interagency steering committee to determine the facility's research priorities and procedures. The research will primarily focus on offshore wind but will also include underwater ocean energy and environmental monitoring technologies.

Part of NREL's renovation of the former lighthouse will include installing research equipment, including a meteorological tower that reaches 100 meters above sea level, which is the height of offshore wind turbine hubs.

The harsh environment and remote location of offshore energy sites make new technologies necessary in order to assess the power-producing potential of offshore sites. Strong winds and high concentrations of salt, for example, mean data-collecting equipment needs to be heavy-duty and extremely sturdy to operate offshore.

Whereas land-based wind assessment is often done by placing meteorological equipment on a tower, the challenges of anchoring similar towers into the ocean floor can increase costs substantially. As a result, offshore energy developers are looking at new ways to gather precise wind measurements at sites of interest.

Among the new technologies that are expected to be tested at the reference facility are devices incorporating light detection and ranging (LIDAR) to measure offshore wind speeds. LIDAR devices would be placed on buoys in the ocean. However, ocean waves move buoys up and down, which would also send the device's light beams in multiple directions. To avoid this problem, scientists have developed methods to account for a buoy's frequently changing position to collect the wind data they need.

That's where the reference facility comes in, PNNL says. Mathematically corrected data from buoy-based LIDAR will prove that the data collected is reliable and accurate. Wind assessment LIDAR devices would be placed both on buoys floating near the facility and on the facility itself. Wind data would be collected from both sources and evaluated to determine the buoy-based technology's accuracy.


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