First tests on offshore wind turbine transformer carried out in OWI-Lab large climatic chamber

OWI-Lab: "Components used in the latest wind turbines are put through their paces under extreme climatic conditions in the OWI-Lab's large climate chamber."

The first climatic tests (extreme temperature tests) have been carried out this week in the Port of Antwerp of a new generation of transformers for large offshore wind turbines. The Offshore Wind Infrastructure Application Lab (OWI-Lab for short) was built by the Sirris technology research centre and will be used to simulate a range of extreme temperature scenarios. The tested transformer has been designed and built by CG in Mechelen.

"Offshore wind turbines must be able to withstand extreme weather conditions. The aim of testing them in the climatic chamber is to guarantee the reliability of the components used", says Dr. Jan Declercq, CTO of CG. "Our customers need transformers that will operate without any problems at all times, even under extreme climatic conditions. Accordingly, it's crucial that we test at -30°C and from cold start to full capacity in a short time. Maintaining offshore wind turbines is no easy task and requires more work." The OWI-Lab's climatic chamber was opened in the presence of the Minister-President of Flanders, Kris Peeters, in September. Since then the finishing touches have been added to make it ready for operation.

The OWI-Lab is a joint initiative between 3E, ZF Wind Power Antwerpen NV, CG, DEME and GeoSea, along with Agoria (Belgium's federation for the technology industry), the innovation platform Generaties, Sirris and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). The launch of the project is being subsidised by the Flemish government. The test facility itself is open to all European companies.

"As this is a young sector, a lot of investment still needs to be made in innovation. The support of the Flemish government can help the Belgian wind energy sector gain an edge over its international competitors. It is a good investment choice because offshore wind energy is one of the areas where we can make a difference around the world, as Flanders is home to many leading technology companies in this sector that invest heavily in innovation and can use their technologies to gain export markets. These investments allow us to create the jobs of the future", says Jos Pinte, General Director of Sirris.

The offshore wind-energy sector may develop into a major new industrial segment that creates many jobs and exports. According to Agoria, the wind-energy sector may account for about 13,000 new jobs in Belgium by 2020. Belgium has also pledged to generate 13% of its energy supplies from renewable energy sources by 2020. Wind energy will play a crucial role here. In the future no less than one third of our wind energy will have to be generated by offshore wind farms.

Stress tests on wind-turbine components

The OWI-Lab has been created to help make this happen. A climatic chamber which is several metres long and several metres high has been constructed in a hangar in the Port of Antwerp. Sirris, the collective centre of the technology industry, wants to use the testing laboratory to perform stress tests on wind-turbine components, which have to be able to endure extreme climatic conditions and operating modes. Thanks to this climatic chamber – the only one of its kind in Europe – system tests can be conducted on large and heavy components (weighing up to 150 tonnes) under extreme, controllable conditions. By way of an example, the climatic chamber is able to simulate a temperature range of -60°C to +60°C. In this way, the OWI-Lab will contribute to ensuring the reliability and robustness of wind turbines and will shorten product-development times.

Between 30 and 40 series of tests will be performed in the OWI-Lab every year. Depending on the size of the turbine components, such tests may take anything from one day to several weeks to complete. They will be carried out on components such as gearboxes, transformers, hydraulic units, lubrication units, generators and pitch systems. The OWI-Lab can test components weighing up to 150 tonnes and is thus fully prepared for testing of the 10 to 12 MW wind turbines of the future. State-of-the-art wind turbines currently have a capacity of 6.5 MW per pylon. Thanks to its unique scale and testing facilities, the OWI-Lab is also ideally suited to performing tests for other industries such as shipping, mechanical engineering, the automotive sector, electrical engineering and more.

Jobs of the future

The Flemish government has made available €4.8 million for the OWI-Lab, and is investing not only in the climatic chamber but also in monitoring of offshore wind turbines (health-monitoring) and in Floating Lidar (FLiDAR), a mobile system for offshore wind-speed measurements.  Investment in the latter project has already given rise to a spin-off, FLiDAR NV, which was recently selected by DONG Energy, the world leader in developing and building offshore wind farms, to perform offshore wind measurements.

Meanwhile, more than 25 companies and knowledge institutions are already involved in the initiative and the OWI-Lab is already reaching the majority of the wind-energy value chain in Flanders, in which more than 150 companies are estimated to be active. The OWI-Lab is part of a broader programme covering R&D and innovation in wind energy. Other initiatives that have been launched recently under the impetus of the OWI-Lab include HighWind (promoting efficient and less weather-dependent installation of offshore wind turbines) and OptiWind (providing models and resources to ensure the intelligent and efficient maintenance of offshore wind turbines).

A feasibility study regarding the construction of a test site for offshore wind farms off the Belgian coast is also under way. The aim of this site is to test new foundations and turbines offshore before they become commercially available, thereby ensuring that any teething problems can be  solved before the turbines are put on the market.

Thanks to all these initiatives and, first and foremost, the launch of the massive climatic chamber, Flemish industry is making huge strides in a whole range of technologies of the future.