Sat. Nov 25th, 2023
    Exploring the Vast Depths: Underwater Drones to Survey Potential Sites for Floating Wind Farms

    The ambitious goal of developing clean energy through floating wind farms in the Pacific Ocean comes with its fair share of challenges. However, technology company Ocean Infinity believes it has found a solution: underwater robot drones. By utilizing their fleet of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), Ocean Infinity plans to survey the seafloor and overcome the difficulties posed by the deep waters off the U.S. West Coast.

    The vast continental shelf off the West Coast drops off steeply, making the seafloor both deep and daunting. While floating wind turbines don’t require foundations built into the seafloor, they still need secure locations for anchors and cables to prevent drifting. This is where the surveying process becomes crucial.

    Ocean Infinity’s underwater drones, resembling submarines or torpedoes, will be dispatched to study the seafloor and identify suitable sites for the installation of floating wind farms. Shawntel Johnson, Ocean Infinity’s business development director, expressed the significance of partnering with Equinor Wind US to explore the challenging deepwater topography of the U.S. West Coast. This endeavor allows Ocean Infinity to demonstrate the value of its multi-AUV capabilities.

    The use of AUVs in surveying the ocean floor is not a new concept. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that these uncrewed devices have been employed to explore the depths since the 1960s. AUVs offer numerous advantages over tow-behind mapping devices, including cost-efficiency and the ability to operate independently without the need for surface ships or crews.

    The innovation and versatility of AUVs are reminiscent of Mars rovers, as they can navigate the ocean depths without human intervention. The customizable nature of AUVs allows for streamlined submersibles for rapid assessment as well as sturdier devices built to withstand the immense pressures of the deep ocean.

    Ocean Infinity’s foray into the Pacific aligns with the broader efforts to expand offshore wind energy production. The U.S. government recently opened five leases for Pacific wind farms in 2022, paving the way for commercial-scale floating offshore wind energy in the United States. The Equinor lease, which Ocean Infinity will survey, has the potential to generate up to two gigawatts of wind power, enough to power approximately 600,000 homes.

    The significance of this development lies in the fact that around two-thirds of America’s offshore wind energy potential lies in deep waters. By harnessing the power of wind, we can replace the generation of dirty energy and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The potential two gigawatts of wind power could replace six coal-fired power plants, contributing to a cleaner and more sustainable future.

    Ocean Infinity plans to commence its exploration of potential wind farm sites off the California coast in February 2024. Through the utilization of underwater drones, the company aims to gather an abundance of data in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner. This ambitious project exemplifies Ocean Infinity’s vision of using robotics at a large scale to optimize safety, collect crucial data, and minimize its environmental impact.


    1. What are floating wind farms?

    Floating wind farms are offshore wind installations that use platforms anchored to the seabed or floating structures to support wind turbines. Unlike traditional fixed-bottom wind farms, floating wind farms can be deployed in deeper waters, expanding the potential for renewable energy generation.

    2. How do underwater robot drones contribute to the development of floating wind farms?

    Underwater robot drones, known as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), play a crucial role in surveying the seafloor to identify suitable locations for floating wind farms. These AUVs collect data and assess the deepwater topography, enabling precise site selection for the installation of floating wind turbines.

    3. What are the advantages of using AUVs for ocean floor surveying?

    AUVs offer several advantages, including cost-efficiency, independence from surface ships, and the ability to navigate challenging underwater terrains. They can be customized to meet specific requirements, ranging from rapid assessment of large areas to withstanding the immense pressures of deep-ocean environments.

    4. How does floating offshore wind energy contribute to a clean and sustainable future?

    Floating offshore wind energy harnesses the power of wind in deep waters, unlocking the potential for renewable energy generation in previously untapped areas. By replacing dirty energy sources like coal-fired power plants, floating wind farms help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change.