National robotics centre for offshore renewable energy industry opens in Blyth
Image credit: Catapult
The Digital, Autonomous and Robotics Engineering (Dare) Centre at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s testing facility in Blyth was opened today (Thursday) by Graham Stuart, the minister for energy security and net zero.
The £3m state-of-the-art Dare Centre is the first of its kind in the UK. It will provide a unique opportunity for developers, researchers and wider industry to test, demonstrate and commercialise innovative digital and robotic products and services for the offshore renewable energy market.
As offshore wind in the UK gets ready to triple capacity over the coming decade, the adoption of robotics and autonomous systems will be vital in achieving the rapid expansion to reach net zero. These technologies are expected to play an increasingly important role in the offshore renewable energy sector, with the UK well-placed to establish a world-leading supply chain linked to their future development.
Stuart said: “I’m delighted to open the UK’s national robotics centre for offshore wind. Drones, robots and underwater vehicles can reinforce the UK’s position as the world leader in offshore wind, make us even more competitive, and keep turbines turning in even the most hazardous of conditions.
“The robotics centre will increase the safety and productivity of our highly skilled offshore wind technicians, lower costs and contribute both to lower consumer bills and the nation’s energy security.”
Technology tested at the Dare Centre will support the expansion of the offshore wind market and turbocharge the success of services and digital infrastructure surrounding the industry.
Andrew Jamieson, chief executive at ORE Catapult, said: “The Dare Centre is a fantastic facility that will help the UK stay at the forefront of innovation in robotics, AI and digital solutions to support the growth of offshore renewables.
“The UK has a global reputation for its sub-ocean engineering expertise and ingenuity. The Dare Centre will propel UK businesses and this capability into the fast-expanding offshore wind space.
“Innovation we can unlock here will allow those at the cutting edge of offshore wind development to work faster and safer, optimise specialist skills, improve reliability, and reduce the carbon footprint of the next generation of offshore wind farms.”
The Dare Centre includes a robotics assembly bay, an airborne robotics test zone, three dry docks with 20,000m3 capacity, and test control rooms linked to the docks via a live environment monitoring system. The centre is the latest part of ORE Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, which offers a wide range of test and validation facilities, including market-leading wind turbine testing and an offshore demonstration zone.
Companies displaying their technology solutions at the Dare Centre opening included Kinewell, Enshore Subsea, SMD, EnergyVue, BeeX and Sonardyne, Eleven-I, Innvotek, and Aspira Aerial Applications, showcasing ways to streamline offshore wind turbine installation and dramatically improve operations and maintenance on offshore wind farms.
Technologies on show include economically optimised inter-array cable layouts for offshore wind farms, ordnance surveying scanners, electric remotely operated vehicle (e-ROV) machines, a hovering autonomous underwater vehicle, asset monitoring for wind turbine blades, a crawler robot to solve industry challenges around inspection and maintenance, and data solutions to help lower costs of renewable energy asset management.
Enshore Subsea, BeeX and Aspira Aerial Applications have already signed up to test their products at the new Dare Centre. Aspira is developing a specialist coating, sprayed onto a wind turbine blade by drone, to remove salt build up and detritus, with the aim of improving turbine power output and minimising downtime.
Jonathan Fenning, managing director at Aspira Aerial Applications, said: “The Dare Centre will be pivotal in supporting multiple stages of our Innovate UK project to develop spray application using a bespoke drone to improve the operating efficacy of wind turbine technology.
“We can provide fast, efficient and cost-effective solutions to achieve an increase in performance for the industry, but we needed to test and evidence our developments. To do this we needed to perform real-world testing – something that is incredibly challenging for a drone of our size and complexity, but the Centre was ideal.”
The Dare Centre has been funded through the UK government’s 'Getting Building Fund', managed in the region by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) and Innovate UK.
Helen Golightly OBE, chief executive of the North East LEP, said: “The offshore wind and green energy sectors in our region are internationally renowned, so it’s very fitting that the UK’s first centre for advancements in digital, autonomous and robotics engineering in renewable energy has opened here in the North East.
“The infrastructure that exists around offshore wind, and the skills and expertise in our region, has already helped attract significant investment. With Dogger Bank Wind Farm set to become the world’s largest offshore wind farm, the North East is well placed to seize new opportunities through the R&D and testing facilities on the River Blyth, as well as the growing base of manufacturing and logistics operations in the sector.
“Investment in the Dare Centre from the Getting Building Fund will not only help deliver government’s commitment to reach net zero, it will also help the North East unlock the economic opportunities provided by net zero, helping us create a greener, fairer and more sustainable region.”
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