GVSU wind buoy to return to Lake Michigan off Muskegon for third and final year of research

April 8, 2013

GVSU wind buoy to return to Lake Michigan off Muskegon for third and final year of research

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By Dave Alexander

MUSKEGON, MI – The Grand Valley State University wind buoy will be staying closer to home this season as the sophisticated wind instrumentation platform completes the last of its three-year mission.

In the next two weeks, Andrie Inc. crews will be moving the unique yellow buoy from the Muskegon Channel, where it has been stored this winter, according to GVSU Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center Director Arn Boezaart.

The research platform will be placed 10 miles southwest of the Muskegon Channel in 200 feet of water in Lake Michigan. The third year location is about seven miles due west of the Nugent Sand property in Norton Shores, Boezaart said.

Where the AXYS Technology buoy built in British Columbia will be next year is anybody’s guess. The U.S. Department of Energy funded testing of the “floating laser pulse technology” that measurers wind speed and direction at various heights above the lake surface is over at the end of this season.

The GVSU-owned buoy will be removed in December to protect the research equipment from ice damage over the course of the winter, Boezaart said. The buoy can then be deployed to other locations on Lake Michigan or throughout the Great Lakes, but further research will depend upon partners providing the funding, he said.

“We have found that the laser technology we have been using has been superb,” Boezaart said. “It has been very reliable.”

Offshore wind turbines possible, years away

The other reason for the $1.4 million federal investment in the buoy and its Catch the Wind Inc. testing equipment from Chantilly, Va., was to collect accurate wind data from various locations on Lake Michigan. The wind data being collected by GVSU scientists along with those from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan will inform the commercial wind energy sector on the strength and quality of the winds for Lake Michigan turbine development.

Boezaart said that even in the three-year life of the Lake Michigan wind study, technology has advanced to make offshore wind more accessible and less objectionable from the shoreline. However, he said offshore wind farms on Lake Michigan or any of the Great Lakes are years if not decades away.

The buoy and its research equipment – which also measures wave heights, bat and bird activities and basic water quality, among others – arrived in Muskegon in October 2011.

That fall the buoy and its equipment were first tested on Muskegon Lake. It then spent two months four miles off the Muskegon shoreline in Lake Michigan before winter arrived.

The second year of research was from May to December in the middle of Lake Michigan, 35 miles west of the White Lake Channel north of Muskegon. The laser equipment was able to obtain 98 percent of the data measurements at 490 feet above the lake, storing it on its onboard computers.
boezaart.JPG Arn Boezaart

“We’ve collected a boatload of data and we will now do another full season,” Boezaart said of measurements reaching 575 feet above the lake. “We will begin to be able to draw some conclusions.”

Already, GVSU and its partner scientists have learned that the quantity and quality of the Lake Michigan winds are favorable for offshore generation of electricity with huge commercial wind turbines. Initial data shows that some of the best winds are found at 400 feet above the lake, lower and thus more accessible than first thought, Boezaart said.

Through data collection by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory and in conjunction with the Michigan State University Extension, scientists found bats flying over the mid-lake location last summer. This is the first time bat activity has been studied over the lake.

“It is important to know bat and bird activity for potential offshore wind development,” Boezaart said.

The GVSU Lake Michigan wind research will be having a “coming out party” of sorts at the May 5-6 American Wind Energy Association meeting at McCormick Place in Chicago. Boezaart will be providing information on the study and basic data in conjunction with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and buoy manufacturer AXYS.

“We are taking our project results to Chicago because the whole industry will be there,” Boezaart said. “We’ll shop around to see who is interested in what we are doing.”

GVSU has received some interest from public utilities to study offshore wind, especially in Lake Huron. Michigan Technological University has an interest in studying the winds of Lake Superior and there is interest in testing off the Chicago coast. The next round of research could come from partnerships with the private sector, state governments or universities, Boezaart said.

More palatable wind turbines

The offshore wind industry has progressed tremendously since the 2009 proposal from Scandia Offshore Wind for large wind farms directly off the shores of Oceana and Mason counties, Boezaart said. Those proposals kicked up a firestorm of opposition and the Norway-based plans died.

Those wind farms were proposed for six miles or closer to shoreline, highly visible in the lake from private lake houses and public beaches. Glosten Associates of Seattle is now ready to test its floating wind turbine technology off the shores of Cornwall, England, through a project of the Energy Technologies Institute.

Glosten’s submerged platform, tied to the ocean floor, will allow a huge 6-megawatt wind turbine to be placed in water deeper than 300 feet. Glosten had expressed interest in deploying its first floating turbine platform in Lake Michigan but a lack of interest by state officials and public utilities resulted in taking the technology to Europe, Boezaart said.

Such floating technology would allow for offshore turbines on Lake Michigan so they could not be seen for shore, Boezaart said.

“This is a game changer so that what everyone was mostly concerned about three years ago is ancient history today,” Boezaart said. “We can do wind energy in the middle of the lake and not bother people. But as we have our current love affair with natural gas alternatives such as wind and solar have taken a back seat.

“But offshore wind development is happening in the waters of Europe,” he continued. “It will eventually come to the Great Lakes.”

Email: dalexan1@mlive.com