‘U’ researchers to study offshore wind power

For the Daily
Published May 21, 2011

University researchers are teaming up with other scientists around the state to examine a potential source of renewable energy — wind power.

The University’s Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute is collaborating with Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center for a $2.7 million, three-year study that will assess offshore wind power on the Great Lakes. The project will begin in late August when researchers plan to launch the WindSentinel buoy into Lake Michigan near Muskegon.

Dennis Assanis, director of the MMPEI and a professor in the College of Engineering, said the high-tech buoy will provide the team with key information regarding offshore wind power on the Great Lakes.

Assanis said the mobility of the buoy within the water will allow the team to study offshore wind power in various regions of the Great Lakes, unlike previous studies which were limited by a fixed structure.

“Our mobile platform will allow us to essentially move it around different locations within the Great Lakes and map out where the most promising regions for investment in the wind energy,” Assanis said.

In addition to examining the quality of offshore winds, the study will also consider other important factors in installing wind turbines on the Great Lakes, Assanis said.

“It is an important study to conduct and see what is acceptable to the public, what is environmentally acceptable, what is economically acceptable and what type of policies we would need to put in place to induce the development and deployment of this offshore wind energy,” Assanis said.

The environmental aspect of the study will focus on the bird and bat population in the area and how wind turbines on the Great Lakes would affect them.

“We are going to take sonar data to find out how many birds pass by where we deploy our (buoy) … so we can extrapolate the data based on the frequency that we have birds in our location to figure out what would be the environmental impact,” Assanis said.

Although the task is complex, Assanis said he believes their assessment of the Great Lakes could strengthen Michigan’s renewable energy business.

“The success that we will have hopefully in this offshore wind study will help accelerate the transition to develop a healthy and strong (wind energy) industry,” Assanis said.

According to Arnold Boezaart, director of MAREC at Grand Valley State University, the team will collect and supervise the vast amount of data collected from the buoy and then send it to the University to run more comprehensive tests.

He added that through collaboration, he hopes the two universities will be able to find insightful data that will aid in the development of offshore wind farms close to the Great Lakes and diminish the potential costs and challenges of transmitting the energy.

“We believe that this project will contribute to expanding the body of knowledge that will allow future consideration of commercial wind developments over the Great Lakes,” Boezaart said.

He explained that offshore wind is important to consider as a renewable energy source since the quality is generally superior to wind passing over land. The vast size of the Great Lakes also allows the wind to blow uninterrupted, making offshore winds ideal for producing energy with a wind turbine, he said.

“There is a lot of renewable energy, free energy you might say, available over the great Lakes, so it’s a very substantial asset that we potentially have if we want to become even more serious than we already are about developing renewable energy,” Boezaart said.