Graham Stuart, the UK Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, on Thursday opened the Digital, Autonomous, and Robotics Engineering (DARE) Centre at Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s testing facility in Blyth.
According to ORE Capatult, the £3m DARE Centre is the first of its kind in the UK, and will provide "a unique opportunity for developers, researchers and wider industry to test, demonstrate and commercialize 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 next decade, the adoption of robotics and autonomous systems is vital to achieving this rapid expansion and reaching Net Zero. These technologies play an increasingly important role in the offshore renewable energy sector, and the UK is primed to establish a world-leading supply chain linked to their future development," ORE Catapult said.
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 center 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 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, and according to ORE Catapult, "creating ways to streamline the offshore wind turbine installation and dramatically improve operations and maintenance on offshore wind farms."
Graham Stuart, Minister of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, said: “I’m delighted to open the UK’s national robotics center 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 has been funded through UK Government’s Getting Building Fund, managed in the region by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP), and Innovate UK.
Enshore Subsea, BeeX, and Aspira Aerial Applications have 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 minimizing 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.
“Looking to the future, our technology can be used to apply other intelligent coatings such as environmentally sensitive de-icers, or coatings to assist with fatigue/crack inspections. We very much intend to maintain our partnership with the DARE team as we move forward.”