ORONO, Maine — Anticipating a bright future for wind energy in Maine, Habib Dagher of the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center on Monday welcomed senior executives from the Norwegian oil and energy firm Statoil to a tour and business meeting at the Orono research and development facility.
The visit this week reflects an agreement signed earlier this year by Statoil, UMaine and Gov. John Baldacci’s office for the Stavanger, Norway-based company to conduct deep-water testing of commercial wind turbine technology in the Gulf of Maine. In addition to visiting the Orono campus, Statoil representatives will tour the Cianbro manufacturing facility in Brewer, fly to Vinalhaven to tour the new land-based Fox Islands Wind facility there, visit Bath Iron Works, and attend a dinner and reception hosted by Baldacci at the Blaine House in Augusta.
State officials and business leaders visited Norway in September to inspect Statoil’s massive “Hywind” floating wind turbine in the North Sea. The experimental floating generator is the largest in the world.
Maine hopes the company will invest in wind energy research, design and manufacturing through the Advanced Structures and Composites Center on the Orono campus. Monday’s meeting included state officials and industry leaders, among them Peter Vigue of the Pittsfield-based Cianbro Cos.
The ultimate goal, Dagher said, is to foster the development of a large offshore wind farm in U.S. waters off the coast of Maine.
“By merging the technology they have developed in Norway and the technology we’re developing here,” Dagher said, “we can create a great trans-Atlantic opportunity here in Maine.”
Hywind turbine is the world’s first floating turbine, its 500-foot steel shaft tethered to the ocean floor far off the coast of Norway. Dagher said materials technology being developed at UMaine — especially the “bridge in a backpack” innovation that replaces steel beam and reinforced concrete construction with lighter, stronger, cheaper and faster on-site poured concrete arches — could be adapted to improve the Hywind prototype.
The bid for Statoil’s investment comes just as the Advanced Structures and Composites Center prepares to break ground on a new 18,000-square-foot addition devoted to developing and testing wind energy technology. Robert Lindyberg, assistant director for boat building and composites at the center, said construction would begin within a few days.
“They are years ahead of us. It looks like the technology works, ” Lindyberg said of the Hywind deep-water energy project. “They bring some very valuable expertise to the table.” If UMaine researchers can make the Norwegian technology more cost-effective, he said, the payoff could come in the form of Maine-based manufacturing, construction and installation jobs.
Sjur Bratland, asset manager for Statoil, said Monday’s presentation at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center was persuasive.
“I knew I would be impressed, and I am,” he said. But he added that the company is looking into other opportunities as well.
“That is why we are traveling around the world to see if it will be in Europe, Asia or the U.S.,” he said, referring to the location of Statoil’s next investment.
Last month, the University of Maine was awarded an $8 million federal grant to lead research for a wind-energy consortium. Much of that research is focused on offshore wind energy development, with four sites under active consideration for testing deep-water technology.