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Not in marine technology? Take the opportunity.

By Prof Lars Johanning, University of Exeter, Lead Partner for Marine-i

Marine tech is a fast growing sector which is currently being transformed by exciting regional and global  developments. Significant amongst these is the emerging opportunity for Floating Offshore Wind in the Celtic Sea. This has the potential to make Cornwall and the South West a world leader in this new form of renewable energy. 

The UK Government recently described Floating Offshore Wind as "a hugely exciting opportunity and a dynamic area of growth which sits squarely and centrally in the Government's goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”

Innovation is often driven by businesses which traditionally operate in one sector spotting an opportunity in a different field and diversifying. 

The marine tech sector in Cornwall has become a hotbed for innovation. As a result, it is already attracting pioneering and ambitious businesses from other sectors. Could your business be one of them?

Marine-i is a project designed to accelerate innovation in marine tech and help businesses in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly grow, by delivering a broad range of RD&I support. Marine-i also offers its world-class expertise to businesses that are not currently operating in marine tech, but could potentially bring their skills, products and services to fuel innovation in the sector. Cross-sectoral fertilisation is something we actively encourage and support.

Here are just some of the many opportunities for businesses with no previous marine experience to get involved in the very latest developments in marine tech:

Manufacturing and Construction

Marine-i partner, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, has identified that the emerging Floating Offshore Wind industry presents a significant opportunity for manufacturing in the region. In its recent report Benefits of Floating Offshore Wind to Wales and the South West it says:

“Substructure design and fabrication makes up 25 - 30% of capex spend. It is a labour and material intensive part of the supply chain and, dependent on suitable assembly yard access in the region, can provide a significant opportunity for jobs and manufacturing in the region. Serial manufacture of large units requires fabrication facilities with large laydown areas, high weight bearing quayside with good access and cranage.”

The industry is calling out for distributed companies that can feed into the construction of primary structures such as a floating wind platform, especially companies competent in fabrication, welding and assembly, particularly in steel and aluminium. Floating platforms will require internal equipment spaces for buoyancy control systems, auxiliary equipment, heating and lighting, and possibly a citadel for technicians. There will also be a huge amount of secondary fit-out work required for internal services, hatches, ladders, trunking, wiring, and lighting.

There are many companies in Cornwall and the South West that are highly competent at delivering these kinds of services. They could for example have been involved in building oil and gas platforms, chemical plants, large factories, or power stations. They do not need to have a marine background – they just need to have a high level of competence and be able to gear up to deliver large volumes.

Quality Assurance, Inspection and Testing

In order to access more powerful and consistent wind resources, Floating Offshore Wind turbines will be located much further out to sea. They will need to operate effectively in extremely harsh environments. These large structures are also very top-heavy and will exhibit a noticeable degree of movement as they respond to the wind and wave conditions. All these factors mean that huge stresses will be placed on the structures.

Developing new systems to constantly monitor and manage the structural integrity of these turbines will be a pivotal role for businesses. Not only are the assets themselves highly valuable but the financial impact of any unscheduled downtime for repairs would have a big financial impact.

The industry will need to create innovative systems that provide owners, operators and stakeholders with the information they need to make crucial management decisions, but also to give confidence to potential investors.    

These are transferable skills that are found in other industries, such as aerospace, and could be brought across to the fast-growing Floating Offshore Wind sector, to help meet the predicted future demand.

Data, Machine Learning and Cyber Security 

Sensors and data communications, including asset monitoring, are fields where businesses operating in other sectors are also opportunities diversifying into marine tech.

The Floating Offshore Wind farms of the near future will generate a huge volume of performance data. Without innovative new approaches, this would overwhelm their operators. As a result, people working in tandem with Machine Learning systems and AI assistants will be a core feature of how we manage this new infrastructure, as we transition to an energy supply that is dominated by wind.

In the development phase, we envisage using innovation tools including Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Machine Learning and AI to combine numerical and laboratory scale modelling, with mid and full-scale demonstration at sea, to create a self-sustaining Floating Offshore Wind RD&I environment.

Floating Offshore Wind Farms will present new challenges for Cyber Security specialists. High levels of security will need to be maintained across a new and complex supply chain. The industry will have to cope with increasingly complex and unpredictable cyber threats. Highly sophisticated security features will need to be designed into the systems and they will also need to be continually refined and updated to stay ahead of emerging threats. For a more detailed exploration of this topic, see the article produced by our partner, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, on Stepping Up Cybersecurity in Offshore Wind.

Offshore Energy Storage, Transmission and Control Systems

The way in which energy is stored, transmitted and then integrated into the grid is a massive area for development. It will be a critical factor driving the cost-effectiveness of Floating Offshore Wind. One of the key challenges is the need to efficiently transmit energy across long distances. Complex and innovative solutions will need to be considered, including hybrid network approaches  that incorporate H2 and innovative storage solutions.

These new approaches will help to increase deployment of Floating Offshore Wind by allowing a much larger capacity to connect to the grid. These innovations will also be crucial for maintaining consistency of supply and alleviating some of the effect that wind variability has on grid capacity.

Companies developing energy storage, transmission and control products have a large opportunity to get involved in development of multiple vector onshore/offshore solutions, including power, heat, transport and other sources. 

In addition, experience gained in electrification, autonomous land/ air systems or drones can be applied to pioneering solutions in autonomous vessels and new forms of marine propulsion.

What does this mean for your business?

The above are just some brief examples of relevant business experience that could potentially be used as a springboard to develop innovation in the marine tech sector.

If you think your own business may be able to bring vital skills, experience and innovative ideas to marine tech, please contact the Marine-i team to discover more about the support that could be available to you. 

Our goal is to help you harness the full power of RD&I to bring your innovation to market more quickly and with the greatest chance of success.

There has never been a better time for your business to make its first move into marine technology.

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