UK’s Critical Role in Accelerating Floating Lidar Technology to Market

Published 8 July 2020 Last updated 28 October 2020


Resource and metocean assessment campaigns are a critical feature in the development of offshore wind sites, providing atmospheric and oceanographic datasets to inform the engineering design of a wind farm, and its potential for energy production. The data is also vital to de-risking offshore wind farm developers’ consenting decisions and ‘green light’ huge capital investment.

The remote sensing technology to undertake the assessment – named Light Detection and Ranging, or ‘Lidar’ – requires a host platform offshore. Meteorological (met) masts, fixed to the seabed, provide a reliable and proven data set, and similar structures could be used to host a Lidar. However, met masts are typically single use, capital-intensive structures, which is problematic in an industry looking to progressively strip out cost.

This makes Floating Lidar Systems (FLS) an obvious alternative, providing a cost effective, sea-based solution with the agility to deploy, remove and change location as per the demand. It has even been suggested that up to 90% cost reduction can be achieved compared to a typical met mast investment[1]. However, the primary challenge facing FLS has been proving its viability to industry as an equally accurate and robust alternative to fixed met masts, especially the potentially precarious nature of data collection from a floating platform.

As a result, programmes such as the Carbon Trust Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) Roadmap for the Commercial Acceptance of Floating Lidar Technology[2] have been initiated. Published in 2013 and updated in 2018, the Roadmap provides an industry-backed route for FLS manufacturers to prove and commercialise their technology. It involves three stages:

  • Stage 1: Baseline Lidar measurement unit recognised as ‘proven’ in the field of wind resource characterisation
  • Stage 2: Pre-commercial Floating Lidar technology utilised commercially in limited circumstances following successful Type Validation
  • Stage 3: Commercial Successful further trials conducted and a sufficient body of evidence available to robustly verify sensitivities to environmental conditions

In order for manufacturers to further develop and validate their FLS technology, a data benchmark is required to prove that FLS are collecting their own data accurately. This requires calibrated and accurate infrastructure already gathering data offshore to provide a representative comparison for analysis campaigns. ORE Catapult’s offshore met mast is equipped and situated to do. Located in the North Sea, 3nm offshore, and standing in 40m of water, it can measure wind at five levels to over 100m above sea level using a conventional Met Mast and beyond using fixed Lidar systems, and host multiple FLS within its 250m consenting area.

The Catapult's National Offshore Anemometry Hub (NOAH), off the coast of Blyth, Northumberland.

One of the manufacturers to have deployed at the site is

AXYS Technologies, a company undertaking the Roadmap in a bid to achieve full commercial acceptance of their FLS. As part of this, AXYS Technologies has deployed two systems to Catapult’s met mast to undergo a minimum three-month classification trial. The result will provide the evidence needed that AXYS Technologies’ FLS has overcome any uncertainty in their performance and are fit for commercial use beyond ‘limited circumstances’ (as per Stage 2). PS Reilly, CEO and VP of AXYS Technologies said:

The existing wind farms here are a great opportunity for us. If you shift to Blyth, as an example, and the UK in general, what we find here is a wealth of marine service firms and experience, a good amount of vessels and vessel availability… It makes it easy for us to plan deployment, recoveries, other operations, because we know the capacity is here to support us.

UK Capability

When it comes to accelerating the commercialisation of FLS technology to market, the UK has several key benefits. Firstly, it has the largest offshore wind market in the world, meaning a growing demand for resource and metocean assessment campaigns ahead of new wind farm deployment in UK waters. With this, the UK has become home to several well-established met masts used for FLS validation purposes, including Gwynt y Mor and East Anglia ONE. ORE Catapult’s aforementioned Blyth-based mast is exclusively used for research and technology acceleration – as opposed to commercial wind farm operations – and therefore adds another string to the UK’s bow in terms of infrastructure dedicated entirely for the acceleration of innovation and technology.

There is also well-established port infrastructure for fast deployment and recovery of FLS, as well as their storage and maintenance when not in use. In addition, the UK has a strong supply of vessels to rapidly deploy and recover Lidar assets.

Finally, the UK has an innovative supply chain capacity to enhance FLS technology. A good example of this is Worcestershire-based ZX Lidars, supplying sophisticated measurement systems into the offshore wind industry. Another example is Partrac, based across the UK, that undertakes complex survey and metocean study services, supplying important data for clients to make informed investment decisions.

In summary, the continued deployment of FLS will be a big factor in cost reduction in offshore wind for the UK. Roadmaps, such as those by the Carbon Trust, provide excellent industry-backed frameworks and incentives to FLS manufacturers seeking to achieve commercialisation. But behind this is also the UK’s ability to service the acceleration of FLS technology (as opposed to it being exclusively developed elsewhere and imported). Strong infrastructure, operational capability and high-value supply chains are good examples of what the UK can continue to provide for industry; and where better to do this than the world’s largest offshore wind market.


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