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First Person

Turning point

University of Maine engineering professor Habib Dagher’s dream, gigantic offshore floating wind turbines that could help power the region, is coming closer to reality.

Professor Habib Dagher.

Jeffry Prymowicz, University of Maine

Professor Habib Dagher.

 As a teenager, I had a laboratory in my bedroom. I’ve always been interested in inventions and technology. My team has developed floating wind turbine technology that utilizes a concrete hull and a composite tower that can be completely assembled dockside and floated out to sea, beyond the horizon so that it would not be visible from land.

The goal of [DeepCwind Consortium’s VolturnUS] project is to help our region — and the US — become more energy independent. The Gulf of Maine has 156 gigawatts of untapped offshore wind capacity within 50 miles of the coast. The state of Maine Ocean Energy Task Force has a plan to produce 5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, nearly equivalent to twice the capacity of the Hoover Dam. That would produce enough energy potentially to heat every home and power every hybrid electric vehicle in Maine.

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The one-eighth-scale VolturnUS was manufactured at the University of Maine and the components assembled at the Cianbro [construction company] facility in Brewer. The full-scale units we are targeting for 2016 are 6-megawatt machines that will rise 300 feet from the water level. A single blade will be larger than the wingspan of the Boeing 747.

 On May 31, the unit was placed in the Penobscot River and towed 30 miles to Castine. It is floating in 80 feet of water and producing electricity connected to the grid. This is a floating laboratory with dozens of sensors. The university is evaluating the data. The findings are very positive.

The day we towed it out to sea, Maine had tornadoes and high winds. The wave height was up to 6 feet, equivalent to a 48-foot wave on the larger unit. That would be the worst environment at sea, and the unit did extremely well. The captain of the trailing tug said he wanted to be on the floating turbine. It was the only thing stable during that storm.   

— As told to Johanna Knapschaefer. Interview has been edited and condensed.

SEE IT To learn more about VolturnUS, go to deepcwind.org.

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