The Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) has announced funding of nearly £4 million from the Newton Fund* to enable researchers from the UK and China to collaborate on five projects to develop the next generation of offshore renewable energy (ORE) technologies.

These three-year long projects, funded as part of the Joint UK-China Offshore Renewable Energy programme, will use environmental science, technology and engineering to tackle key challenges affecting the development of ORE systems, such as offshore wind, wave and tide facilities and structures. The projects will develop technology to make structures resilient to extreme events such as typhoons and earthquakes. In addition, the projects will  showcase the potential of ORE technologies to provide stable power supply for island and coastal communities, particularly in China, but also in UK offshore island communities. .

The £4 m funding does not sound much by comparison with the considerable sums involved in commercial off-shore wind projects.” But there is a huge difference between theoretical research and commercial realisation. Furthermore, it is worth remembering that off-shore wind is a niche market in which the UK is the world leader in capacity (5,356 MW as of August 2017). So we have something to offer here.

For China, which dwarfs the UK in terms of overall wind capacity, trails the UK in terms of off-shore wind capacity with well under 2,000 MW installed at the beginning of 2017. This may be about to change. Interestingly, after the Chinese government cut the tariffs for onshore projects, some predict a 70 per cent increase in China’s off-shore wind capacity by the end of 2017 as companies look to the more attractive economics of offshore wind.

There are obvious advantages for the Chinese: Further advancing China’s renewable energy sector is an integral part of the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan. Partnership with the UK in this field will help build upon both sides’ complementary strengths in research and innovation and further strengthen the bilateral relationship in the long run.


The UK-China collaboration on the next generation of offshore renewable technologies involves wind, tidal and wave projects.

For the record, the Projects are as follows:

Resilient Integrated-Coupled platform design methodology (£811,876)

This project is to provide a foundation to develop and demonstrate an integrated approach to system resilience for ORE in China and the UK, improving energy security while reducing environmental impacts. The proposal builds on environmental resource assessment techniques and data that enable enhanced characterisation methodologies with a focus towards localised environmental conditions and extremes. The engineering focus lies on the quantification and validation of the load reduction potential of novel floating offshore wind platform innovations.

Led by: Professor Lars Johanning, University of Exeter, and Professor Bing Chen, Dalian University of Technology

Farming the Environment into the Grid: Big data in Offshore Wind (£812,414)

The FENGBO-WIND project aims to utilise the newest developments in high-performance computing, physics-based modelling and data science, to create a new generation of predicting capabilities that support the design and operation of more economical offshore wind farms, while assessing and seeking to minimise their environmental impact.

Led by: Professor Mike Graham, Imperial College London, and Professor Yonghua Song, Zhejiang University

Extreme wind and wave loads on the next generation of offshore wind turbines (£799,386)

The aim of this project is to improve the design methodology for offshore wind turbine farms, leading to a reduction in environmental impact, reduction in design uncertainties and ultimately reduced cost of energy. Key themes that will be addressed include: the modelling of the ocean environment in typhoon conditions in potential candidate areas for offshore turbines in China; the creation of realistic environmental load time-histories on turbines; analysis of the structural and geotechnical design of turbines under ultimate state limit and fatigue loadings; and activities aimed at the establishment of long-term collaboration between the UK and China partners.

Led by: Professor Thomas Adcock, University of Oxford, and Professor Ye Li, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Modelling, Optimisation and Design for Offshore Renewable Energy (£809,108)

The project aims to advance the use of virtual prototyping in the design and optimisation of ORE Power Takeoff (PTO) systems. Advances in virtual prototyping, which involves the use of numerical, analytical and empirical models to create and validate designs before the creation of physical PTO prototypes, can reduce the risks to offshore development through evaluation of difference performance and environmental metrics and interactions between separate system aspects. It can also address operating challenges such as availability by revealing stress characteristics and confirming the effectiveness of operation and management strategies for electrical generators and power converters.

Led by: Dr Alasdair McDonald, University of Strathclyde, and Professor Li Ran, Chongqing University

Investigation of the novel challenges of an integrated offshore Multi-Purpose Platform (£766,237)

The project proposes a multi-disciplinary approach to tackling challenges facing the integration of different offshore technologies, such as renewable energy and aquaculture, in a Multi-Purpose Platform (MPP) system, finding synergies in the manufacturing, installation, operation and decommissioning costs of the different facilities, lowering the overall cost. MPPs have the potential to save money, reduce overall impact and maximise socio-economic benefits. It will develop approaches to assess the feasibility of an MPP system and showcase this potential through two case studies, one focusing on an island community in China and one in the UK

Led by: Dr Maurizio Collu, Cranfield University, and Liang Zhang, Harbin Engineering University

*The Newton Fund builds research and innovation partnerships with 18 partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK Government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries.