Future Floating LiDAR Deployment: Challenges & Opportunities


January 24, 2012

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Floating LiDAR technology: a much needed, promising alternative for more cost effective offshore wind resource assessments

Bruce Douglas, Sales and Marketing Director at international consultancy 3E

Bruce Douglas

Limited offshore wind data is actually available in sufficient detail to fully understand the wind climates of selected sites, accurately estimate potential energy production and mitigate risks accordingly.

The offshore wind measurement campaign is a crucial step in the development and operation of an offshore wind farm. Performed at early development stages, it is the cornerstone of any financial strategy and business planning for a project. In later stages, measurements on site can provide vital information for O&M planning or financial restructuring. Until recently, building fixed measurement masts at sea, equipped with standard anemometers or LiDAR systems, was necessary to capture better measurements offshore. However, the construction of this type of infrastructure requires extensive permitting and can cost 3 – 8 Million Euro, depending on location and site conditions. Many investments offshore are significantly delayed by these costs and permitting constraints and so there is keen interest in the industry for a viable alternative to a fixed, permanent or semi-permanent structure.

Floating LiDAR technology is the most attractive, cost-effective alternative presently being developed. It consists of an offshore-ready LiDAR device mounted on a floating buoy structure. The buoy requires little permitting to deploy, provides maximum flexibility for resource assessments at various locations and depths, whilst costing a fraction of the cost of a fixed met mast platform.

Adapting to the harshness of the offshore environment is still a challenge that needs to be overcome for floating LiDARs

Several floating LiDARs built with different LiDAR systems on different buoy types are currently being developed and tested worldwide. They all face similar challenges:

  • a harsh and unstable environment, which affects the survivability and accuracy of systems
  • the need for adaptability (to different depths of water, wave heights, types of projects and financing structures…)
  • the need for maximum accuracy, to ensure bankability and profitability of projects


Some floating LiDAR have already survived successful trials in real conditions offshore with proving results on accuracy. Nonetheless, reliability remains a key concern for all floating LiDAR developers, especially for the next round of far offshore wind projects. Severity of weather conditions and waves offshore cannot be underestimated as they affect the lifetime of the systems, the quality of the data collected and the whole O&M schemes the devices may require. Floating LiDAR developers are responding to this challenge by building robust devices, strengthened and made watertight specifically for safe use offshore.

In addition, as for all other offshore systems, limited access and irregular maintenance due to limited weather windows and the harshness of the maritime environment are difficult challenges for all types of floating LiDARS. Here again robustness is key, as well as autonomy and redundancies.

There are generally two main types of floating LiDARs: on standard marine buoys or on spar buoys. Spar buoy systems are useful in deep waters but cannot be deployed in shallower waters and require extra costs for building and transportation. Standard marine buoy systems move with the waves, but are more robust and can be deployed at any depth, with proper sizing. The latter systems can compensate movement with mechanical stabilisation and software correction. This is the case of the FLiDAR device, developed jointly by 3E, Leosphere and OWA. For this system, test results published in 2011 have shown excellent correlation with fixed offshore LIDAR data. A focus for 2012 will be to validate these measurements in far offshore conditions, reduce costs and to accelerate the full commercial roll-out of the system.
By Bruce Douglas, Sales and Marketing Director at international consultancy 3E.
Bruce is coordinating the development of the FLiDAR, and having previously been Chief Operating Officer at EWEA, now sits on its wind project finance committee.

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