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Title:
DEPLOYING SUBMERGED EQUIPMENT
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2017/202653
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A coupling device for use in deploying submerged equipment (1) is disclosed. The coupling device passively couples to a support structure (2) during deployment of such equipment (1) onto the support structure (2).

Inventors:
VERDEGUER, Javier (Tidal Generation Limited, CastlemeadLower Castle Street, Bristol Gloucestershire BS1 3AG, BS1 3AG, GB)
Application Number:
EP2017/061767
Publication Date:
November 30, 2017
Filing Date:
May 16, 2017
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
TIDAL GENERATION LIMITED (The Ark, 201 Talgarth RoadHammersmith, London W6 8BJ, W6 8BJ, GB)
International Classes:
F03B13/26; B63B21/16
Foreign References:
GB2515011A2014-12-17
GB2486697A2012-06-27
GB2431628A2007-05-02
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BRANNEN, Joseph (The Ark, 201 Talgarth RoadHammersmith, London W6 8BJ, W6 8BJ, GB)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS:

1. A system for deploying buoyant equipment onto a support structure located on a bed of a body of water, the support structure having a support surface for receiving such equipment, and an engagement portion having a circular engagement aperture having a diameter, the system comprising: a winch device adapted for releasable mounting on such equipment, the winch device having a winch tether that extends therefrom, and being operable to pay out and to winch in the winch tether, and a coupling device attached to a distal end of the winch tether for releasable engagement with an engagement portion of such a support structure, wherein the coupling device has a first position in which the coupling device has an outer dimension greater than the diameter of such engagement aperture of the support structure, and a second position in which the coupling device has a maximum outer dimension less than the diameter of the engagement aperture of the support structure.

2. A system as claimed in claim 1, wherein, in the second position, the coupling device is able to pass through the engagement aperture.

3. A system as claimed in claim 1 or 2, wherein the coupling device comprises: a circular body portion having an upper surface, and having a diameter smaller than that of the engagement aperture; a tether engagement portion attached to the body portion, the tether engagement portion being attached to the distal end of the winch tether; a locking portion, rotatably attached to the body portion, and having a first position in which the locking portion extends substantially parallel to and adjacent the upper surface of the body portion, and a second positon in which the locking portion extends away from the upper surface of the body portion in the direction of the winch tether, wherein, in the first position, the locking portion overhangs an outer edge of the body portion such that the coupling device has an outer dimension greater than the diameter of the engagement aperture of the support structure, and wherein, in the second position, the coupling device has a maximum outer dimension less than the diameter of the engagement aperture of the support structure.

4. A system as claimed in claim 2, wherein the locking portion is freely rotatable with respect to the body portion. 5. A system as claimed in claim 3, wherein, during deployment of the equipment, the coupling device is inserted through the engagement aperture, the action of passing through the aperture causing the coupling device to move from the first position to the second position by virtue of the locking portion being in contact with an edge of the aperture, the coupling device returning to the first position through the action of gravity once the coupling device has passed through the aperture.

6. A system as claimed in claim 2, wherein the coupling device comprises a second such locking portion.

7. A system as claimed in any one of the preceding claims, wherein the buoyant equipment is a power generating unit. 8. A system as claimed in claim 6, wherein the power generating unit is a water current turbine power generating unit.

9. A method of deploying buoyant equipment onto a support structure located on a bed of a body of water, the support structure having a support surface for receiving such equipment, and an engagement portion having a circular engagement aperture having a diameter, the method comprising: attaching a winch device to such equipment, the winch device having a winch tether that extends therefrom, and being operable to pay out and to winch in the winch tether; attaching a coupling device to a distal end of the winch tether for releasable engagement with the engagement portion of such a support structure, the coupling device having a first position in which the coupling device has an outer dimension greater than the diameter of such engagement aperture of the support structure, and a second position in which the coupling device has a maximum outer dimension less than the diameter of the engagement aperture of the support structure; passing the coupling device through the engagement aperture of the support structure, the action of passing through the aperture causing the coupling device to move from the first position to the second position by virtue of the locking portion being in contact with an edge of the aperture, the coupling device returning to the first position through the action of gravity once the coupling device has passed through the aperture, winching in the winch tether, thereby engaging the coupling device with an edge region of the engagement aperture and pulling the equipment into engagement with the support structure; securing the equipment onto the support structure; and disconnecting the coupling device from the winch tether.

Description:
DEPLOYING SUBMERGED EQUIPMENT

The present invention relates to deploying submerged equipment, particularly to deploying power generating devices and associated equipment.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Deploying and retrieving submerged equipment can be difficult and hazardous, as well as costly. In particular, submerged power generating devices, such as that illustrated in Figure 1 of the accompanying drawings, require maintenance that can only be carried out with the device removed from the water. The power generating system of Figure 1 comprises a power generating device 1 mounted on a support structure 2 located on a bed 3 of a body of water. The power generating device 1 shown in Figure 1 is exemplary and is a water current turbine device that includes a rotor assembly that is driven by a water current flow 4. The rotor assembly drives a power generator housed in the device, thereby enabling the production of power from the water current. Most typically, this power is in the form of electricity, but it is conceivable that the power generator may produce hydraulic, pneumatic or other power. Such a power generating device may be installed in any appropriate body of water, such as a tidal region, and ocean, or a river.

One proposed design to simplify the maintenance of such power generating systems is to make the power generating device 1 detachable from the support structure 2. In addition, it has been proposed to make the power generating device 1 buoyant, such that it is able to float to the surface of the body of water when being retrieved. This buoyancy enables recovery of the device to be accomplished quickly and without the need for sea-borne heavy lifting equipment.

In order to deploy a buoyant power generating device 1 onto the support structure 2, it has been proposed to use a winch-based technique. Such a technique is described, for example, in UK Patent No. 2486697, and is illustrated in Figure 2 of the accompanying drawings. The power generating device 1 in Figure 2 is shown detached from the support structure. A winch device 6 is mounted on the power generating device 1, and has a winch tether 8 which extends from the winch device 6 to the support structure 2. The winch tether 8 is attached to the support structure 2 such that as the winch device 6 operates to wind in the winch tether 8, the power generating device 1 is pulled towards the support structure 2, as illustrated by arrow 10. The buoyant nature of the power generating device 1 keeps the winch tether taught during the deployment operation. The winch device 6 operates until the power generating device 1 is engaged with the support structure 2 (as shown in Figure 1).

In order to reduce costs, it is desirable to be able to retrieve the winch device 6 for use in deployment of another device 1. It is, therefore, desirable to provide a method and apparatus that enables both the deployment of the power generating device 1 and the recovery of the winch device 6 to be achieved efficiently.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to one aspect of the present invention, there is provided a system for deploying a buoyant power generating unit onto a support structure located on a bed of a body of water. Preferably, the support structure has a support surface for receiving such a power generating unit. The support structure may have an engagement portion having a circular engagement aperture having a diameter. The system may comprise one or more of a winch device adapted for releasable mounting on such a buoyant power generating unit, the winch device may have a winch tether that extends therefrom, and may be operable to pay out and to winch in the winch tether; and a coupling device which may be attached to a distal end of the winch tether for releasable engagement with an engagement portion of such a support structure. Preferably, the coupling device has a first position in which the coupling device has an outer dimension greater than the diameter of such engagement aperture of the support structure, and may have a second position in which the coupling device has a maximum outer dimension less than the diameter of the engagement aperture of the support structure.

In the second position, the coupling device may be able to pass through the engagement aperture. The coupling device may comprise one or more of the following: a circular body portion having an upper surface, and which may have a diameter smaller than that of the engagement aperture; a tether engagement portion which may be attached to the body portion, the tether engagement portion may be attached to the distal end of the winch tether; a locking portion, which may be rotatably attached to the body portion, and which may have a first position in which the locking portion extends substantially parallel to and preferably adjacent the upper surface of the body portion, and preferably a second positon in which the locking portion may extend away from the upper surface of the body portion in the direction of the winch tether. Preferably, in the first position, the locking portion overhangs an outer edge of the body portion such that the coupling device has an outer dimension greater than the diameter of the engagement aperture of the support structure, and, preferably, in the second position, the coupling device has a maximum outer dimension less than the diameter of the engagement aperture of the support structure. The locking portion may be freely rotatable with respect to the body portion. During deployment of the equipment, the coupling device may be inserted through the engagement aperture. The action of passing through the aperture may cause the coupling device to move from the first position to the second position by virtue of the locking portion being in contact with an edge of the aperture. The coupling device may return to the first position through the action of gravity once the coupling device has passed through the aperture.

The coupling device may comprise a second such locking portion. The buoyant equipment may be a power generating unit. The power generating unit may be a water current turbine power generating unit.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided a method of deploying buoyant equipment onto a support structure located on a bed of a body of water. The support structure may have a support surface for receiving such equipment, and may have an engagement portion having a circular engagement aperture having a diameter. The method may comprise one or more of the following steps: attaching a winch device to such equipment, the winch device may have a winch tether that extends therefrom, and may be operable to pay out and to winch in the winch tether; attaching a coupling device to a distal end of the winch tether for releasable engagement with the engagement portion of such a support structure, the coupling device may have a first position in which the coupling device has an outer dimension greater than the diameter of such engagement aperture of the support structure, and preferably a second position in which the coupling device has a maximum outer dimension less than the diameter of the engagement aperture of the support structure; passing the coupling device through the engagement aperture of the support structure, the action of passing through the aperture may cause the coupling device to move from the first position to the second position by virtue of the locking portion being in contact with an edge of the aperture, the coupling device may return to the first position through the action of gravity once the coupling device has passed through the aperture; winching in the winch tether, which may result in engaging the coupling device with an edge region of the engagement aperture and preferably pulling the equipment into engagement with the support structure; securing the equipment onto the support structure; and disconnecting the coupling device from the winch tether. Features of the various aspects and embodiments of the present invention may be readily combined with one or more features of any other aspect or embodiment.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Figure 1 is a schematic view of a submerged power generating system;

Figure 2 illustrates deployment of the system of Figure 1; Figure 3 illustrates deployment of a submerged device according to the principles of the present invention;

Figure 4 illustrates a coupling device embodying another aspect of the present invention; and Figures 5 to 7 illustrate use of the coupling device of Figure 4.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Figure 3 illustrates a deployment method embodying one aspect of the present invention. The method includes five steps, indicated by the five representations A to E of Figure 3. A top portion 20 of the support structure is shown in Figure 3. The top portion 20 includes an engagement plate 22 which is attached to the top portion of the support structure. It will be appreciated that the engagement plate 22 may be attached to any suitable part of the support structure. The engagement plate 22 defines an engagement aperture 24 therethrough. A winch tether is extended from the winch device of the equipment being deployed. The winch tether in this example includes a main portion 25, a detachable portion 26 and a connector 28 which connects the main and detachable portions 25 and 26. The connector 28 is optional and the tether may be provided by a single portion. A coupling device 30 is attached to the tether at a distal end thereof. As shown in step B, the coupling device 30 is engaged with the engagement plate 22, by passing the coupling device 30 through the engagement aperture 24 of the plate 22. One example coupling device 30 suitable for engaging with the engagement plate 22 in this manner will be described below with reference to Figures 4 to 7.

Engagement of the coupling device 30 with the engagement plate 22 allows the winch device to winch in the tether 25, thereby pulling the power generating device down towards the support structure Step B shows the tether being used in this manner. The tension in the tether, caused by virtue of the buoyancy of the power generating device being deployed, serves to keep the coupling device 30 engaged with the engagement plate 22. Such engagement can be considered "passive" in the sense that it is the action of pulling the winch tether that maintains the engagement of the coupling device 30 with the engagement plate 22.

Step C shows the position when a lower part 32 of the power generating device engages with the top portion 20 of the support structure. In this position, the detachable portion This enables the winch device to be removed from the power generating device and recovered to the surface. The connector 28 allows a replacement detachable tether portion 26 to be attached to the main portion 25 of the tether. Step D shows the position when the winch and main portion of tether has been removed. The detachable portion 26 of the tether is no longer in tension, and so the coupling device 30 is able to disengage from the engagement plate 22. The coupling device 30 and the piece of the detachable portion 26 of the tether that is connected with the coupling device 30 falls into a reception region of the support structure. In such a manner, the retrieval of the winch device, and most of the tether is achievable without complex subsea operations. In addition, the attachment of the winch tether to the support structure is simplified.

Figure 4 illustrates a coupling device 40 suitable for use in the manner described above. The coupling device 40 comprises a body having a substantially flat plate 42, from a first surface of which first and second upstands 44 and 46 extend, substantially perpendicular to the plate 42. The upstands 44,46 extend along the plate 42, and are spaced apart from one another. A tether engagement portion 52 extends between the first and second upstands 44 and 46. The winch tether is attached to the tether engagement portion 52. Each upstand 44, 46 has a support portion 48 extending therefrom. Each support portion 48 extends substantially parallel to the plate 42, and supports a locking portion 50. The locking portion 50 is mounted on the support portion 48 and is rotatable about the support portion 48. Rotation of the locking portion 50 is limited by a protrusion 51 that extends from the upstand 44, 46. A truncated cone shaped locating portion 54 extends from the plate 42, from a side opposite to that from which the upstands extend. The locating portion 54 serves to centre the coupling device 40 when it comes into engagement with the engagement aperture 24 of the engagement plate 22 of the support structure. Use of the coupling device 40 of Figure 4 will now be described with reference to Figures 5 to 7. In Figure 5, the coupling device 40 is attached to the winch tether 26 and is being lowered towards the engagement plate 22 of the support structure. In this position, the locking portions 50 are in a transit position in which each locking portion extends adjacent the upper surface of the plate 42. Each locking portion 50 extends such that an end region of the locking portion overhangs the plate 42. The locking portions 50 are held in the transit position by the action of gravity.

Figure 6 shows the coupling device 40 partially inserted through the engagement aperture 24 of the engagement plate 22. As the locating portion 54 engages and outer edge of the engagement aperture 24, the coupling device 40 is centred in the aperture 24. The coupling device 40 is further lowered into the aperture 24, such that the end regions of the locking portions 50 engage with respective edge regions of the engagement aperture 24. Further downward movement of the coupling device 40 causes the locking portions 50 to rotate with respect to the respective support portions 48 such that the coupling device is able to pass through the aperture 24. The protrusions 51 prevent the locking portions over rotating, and ensure that the locking portions 50 return to the correct position.

When the coupling device 40 has passed through the aperture 24, the action of gravity causes the locking portions 50 to rotate with respect to the support portions 48 back to the transit position. In this position, the coupling device 40 cannot be pulled back through the aperture 24, since the locking portions 50 extend outside of the plate 42, and of the aperture 24.

The winch can now wind in the tether, which causes the coupling device 40, and the locking portions 50 in particular, to engage with the engagement plate 22, as shown in Figure 7. The winch can, therefore, pull the power generating device towards the support structure against the engagement of the coupling device 40 with the engagement plate 24.

Following location of the power generating device on the support structure, the tether portion 26 can be detached, preferably by cutting, from the main tether portion. This releases the tension in the tether portion 26, such that the coupling device falls under the action of gravity into a reception region of the support structure.

Such a coupling device provides a straightforward technique for engaging the winch tether with the support structure by making use of passive engagement, enabled by the tension in the tether during movement of the power generating device, and by the action of gravity of the locking portions.

The aforementioned is not intended to be limiting with respect to the scope of the appended claims, which follow. It is also contemplated by the inventors that various substitutions, alterations, and modifications may be made to the invention without departing from the scope of the invention as defined by the claims.