Optimizing offshore wind farm design and enabling a fossil fuel free future

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Wind energy is a fast-evolving field that has attracted a lot of attention and investments over the past decades. The development into a more mature and competitive market makes reduction of costs and maximization of power production imperative already in the design phase of new wind farms. 

Vattenfall is one of Europe’s major producers of electricity and heating with strong presence in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, and Sweden. The energy company is among the leading developers of offshore wind energy. 

Vattenfall has introduced operations research (O.R.) methods to identify the optimal location of wind turbines in a given site in order to maximize performance and ultimately profits, while reducing costs. By focusing on two complex components of offshore wind farm design, namely wind turbine location and routing for offshore electrical cables, Vattenfall is able to maximize its power output, expand its pipeline, and is on track to reach its target of enabling fossil-free living within one generation. 

Until a few years ago, O.R. had never been used in the wind farm design process. However, the results obtained are extremely successful: Savings in the order of between $11.3 million to nearly $16 million have been achieved when designing each individual wind farm. If the new O.R. tool is applied to the 6.5 GW production capacity of offshore wind farms in Vattenfall’s pipeline, the savings add up to more than $169 million.

Previously, wind farm design at Vattenfall was a multistep process depending heavily on standard tools and the experience of the engineers. A preliminary layout was generated, checked for certain factors, adapted, passed to another team for checking and adaptation of other factors, and so on. This manual process was time consuming and might even cancel out the previous work done on optimization of other factors. With the new tool the process is streamlined, as all factors are coded into the optimizers, which delivers optimized layout and cable routing to be evaluated by experts in the final business case. 

The developed O.R. models and algorithms are now fully integrated within Vattenfall’s wind farm design process, allowing not only for large gains, but also for a more agile overall design process. The optimizer has been used on a number of real-world farms, such as Kriegers Flak in Denmark and Hollandse Kust Zuid in the Netherlands, among others. 

The use of the O.R. tools for what-if analyses led to the establishment of a new “scenario” team, where different layout options for future farms are quickly evaluated and more informed decisions are made. The optimizer also gave momentum to Vattenfall’s experts, allowing them to think out of the box, testing entirely new ideas and solutions by running the optimizer with various design factors as input. The availability of such comprehensive optimization tools helps Vattenfall to test new ideas and alternative options straight away, and to quantify the impact of new design choices from the very first stages, which would not be possible in the more manual process. 

In addition, Vattenfall can now identify which new components create the most value for the company, and feed that information to the suppliers, which indirectly has a significantly high value. Thanks to this newly gained understanding, Vattenfall can now engage with suppliers in a novel way and drive innovation in a structured and value-oriented way, supporting the overall offshore wind business.