Monitoring Subsea Cable Health

Subsea cable health is a particular challenge for marine energy and offshore renewables due to the hostile environment in which they are placed. The ORCHIDS project is to address this challenge…

Established in 2003, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) Ltd. is the first and only centre of its kind in the world to provide developers of both wave and tidal energy converters – technologies that generate electricity by harnessing the power of waves and tidal streams – with purpose-built, accredited open-sea testing facilities.

Recently, Fraunhofer UK, a part of Europe’s largest application-oriented research organisation, has joined forces with Synaptec and EMEC to develop an innovative solution to address cable and electrical infrastructure integrity within the marine renewable energy industry.

Funded by the UK Government’s business innovation experts InnovateUK, the ORCHIDS project (Offshore Renewable energy Cable Health monitoring using Integrated Distributed Sensor systems) has brought a unique grouping of expertise together to tackle one of the key challenges in offshore renewable energy.

“Subsea cable health is a particular challenge for marine energy and offshore renewables due to the hostile environment in which they are placed and have to operate. Failure of cables can also lead to costly losses of revenue and hefty repair bills,” remarks David Hytch, Offshore Renewables Specialist at Innovate UK.

“As business focused innovation experts, Innovate UK recognised the potential benefits of the ORCHIDS project to reduce the cost of offshore renewable energy and improve the use of these technologies for sustainable, secure and competitive power generation in the future. Thinking about the future and supporting projects involving businesses with high growth potential is exactly what Innovate UK is for and we are pleased to be able to provide funding for ORCHIDS and help connect the collaborators through the Energy Catalyst programme,” he continues.

The project is looking to enhance subsea cable monitoring capabilities by combining emerging optical sensing techniques to enable a smart cable management system that can be utilised during manufacture, transport, installation, through to end of life.

The feasibility study will include a market assessment looking at the commercial case for the technology alongside a technical review of different distributed fibre sensing techniques that can operate alongside Synaptec’s unique offering.

Henry Bookey, Senior Researcher at Fraunhofer UK says, “This project is the first step towards a combined smart cable system and will allow us to map out the technical and commercial challenges along the way to the first commercial deployment of this unique system. The use of optical fibres found within modern power cables as a cable condition monitor combined with innovative current and voltage sensors is an attractive prospect for offshore infrastructure monitoring.”

Matthew Finn, Senior Business Development Manager at EMEC says, “Our core business is providing developers of wave and tidal energy devices with grid-connected test berths in the harsh conditions experienced around Orkney. However, our infrastructure also opens up opportunities for a range of broader R&D activities and this project was an ideal way to explore how we could use EMEC’s subsea cables to develop new monitoring technologies.”

Philip Orr, Managing Director at Synaptec Ltd adds, “We are delighted at this opportunity to work with Fraunhofer UK and EMEC to demonstrate the potential to combine our unique electrical sensing technologies with cutting-edge acoustic sensing techniques. We firmly believe that making full use of optical fibres that are now intrinsic to power transmission lines and cables will lead to improved instrumentation coverage in a cost-effective way, and to enabling a smarter, more adaptive electricity network.”

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