In August 2020, the Blue Accelerator test platform went ashore for a month for a thorough upgrade. Ben De Pauw provides some details about the changes that were made. Holding a PhD in Engineering, he has been working at POM West Flanders as Operations Engineer for Blue Accelerator since 1 September 2019.
Ben, you have recently supervised a major technical upgrade of the Blue Accelerator test platform. What exactly does this upgrade entail?
Ben De Pauw (BDP): When we took over the platform from the original developer, it was originally designed to accommodate specific wave energy conversion tests. Our ambitions go beyond that: we opened up the test platform to small and large companies and knowledge institutions to carry out all kinds of offshore tests, to test prototypes, conduct demonstrations etc with the aim to accelerate their product development to a commercial phase . That is why we made several improvements to our platform.
Does that mean that certain systems were inadequate?
BDP: I would rather say that certain systems had their inherit limitations. Prior to the works, for example, there was only limited choice of energy supply. We wanted to expand this, making it plug & play as much as possible and adding different options, current and voltage wise.
Another example is the data communication link via the mobile network. That in itself works relatively well as we are close to shore, but if you have a lot of data or if you want to transfer live images, then you need higher bandwidths with a higher reliability. That is why we have installed a secure radio link that offers a minimum bandwidth of 140 Mbits per second. We also made additions to the safety provisions with more anchor points and instrument cabinets have been installed for the safe installation of additional devices.
The goal was to meet specific requirements?
BDP: Indeed, we upgraded using today's technology, with more plug & play and more monitoring and remote control capabilities. As a result, we now offer our users significantly more ease of use and put them in (remote) control. We also put in a lot of effort to have more monitoring systems, for example of the power flow.
You mean monitoring and control systems of the test platform itself?
BDP: Exactly. Suppose a test is done at sea in which energy is produced - I am thinking of floating solar panels or a prototype of a wind turbine that is being tested - then we can remotely monitor the energy production in our power house and find out how much energy is produced effectively. On top of that, a developer at our platform can also remotely intervene by flipping switches or control instruments . As such, we can put developers at the helm (as a figure of speech) and minimize costly offshore interventions.
"The fact that we have a permanent and static construction at sea is quite unique."
How would you compare Blue Accelerator to other testing facilities? What makes Blue Accelerator special?
BDP: Purely from a technical point of view, the fact that we have a permanent and static construction at sea is quite unique. Moreover, our platform is actually very close to the port. So we are in open sea, but not that far from the coast. This easy access means that you don't need to travel for hours or days on a boat to get to the test site. This fixed construction also has the advantage that you can place certain sensors, conduct specific tests or deploy devices in an environment that is sheltered or even not exposed to the maritime or meteorological conditions compared to for example a floating test platform.
Thank you, Ben, for this clarification.
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