Logistics experts from the University of Portsmouth and the University of Le Havre, in France, have won €1.8m in European Union funding to work on the conundrum.

The difficulty is that the cost of transporting, assembling and maintaining the wind turbines can make them more expensive than less eco-friendly fuels. This is in part due to the large size and awkward shape of wind turbine parts.

The problem has been compared to packing your supermarket shopping in the back of a car boot. You aim to fit all the products together to make the best use of space so you don’t have to make multiple trips.

However, while this comparison can help illustrate what the experts are trying to achieve, the problem is far more complex. Dylan Jones, principal lecturer in logistics in the maths department at Portsmouth University, explained that the large number of variables involved make it difficult to work out the best solution.

“It may seem quite easy to quantify but these problems are called combinational optimization problems.

“There are so many different ways to pack things and different routes that could be used it becomes difficult to optimize and yet the difference between a good combination and a bad one can be significant.”

Container ports are not set up to handle wind turbine parts that are much larger and irregularly shaped than traditional cargo. Some rotor blades, for example, span 75m yet the average sized container is just 20m.

Jones and his team hope to be able to quantify how much this more sophisticated approach will save by 2015. EU members must produce 20% of their energy supply through renewables by 2020.

edie staff

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