A Warwickshire engineering company is going head to head with a Japanese firm to design and build a cheaper way of testing offshore wind turbines indoors rather than out in the deep sea.

Converteam, which is based in Rugby, is one of two firms which has been selected by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) as part of a project to create an on-shore test rig where the turbines will be subjected to the same intense pressures as they would offshore.

The UK has the biggest wind energy resource in Europe and the Government recently announced a £75 billion programme to build thousands of offshore wind farms, a move which should help the UK to meet its target of getting 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The Crown Estate’s round three of its offshore wind energy programme will see the development of wind farms much further away from the coast than the country has previously seen, so any technology which allows turbines to be tested onshore would bring down the huge costs for the project.

Converteam is competing with HORIBA Instruments, based in Kyoto, to come up with a design by the end of May and the winning contractor will be selected to procure, build and commission the test rig, which should be operational by the end of 2011.

Converteam business manager, energy Phil Scott said: “We believe this project will be a national asset as well as a global reference site for the renewable market and it is an exciting opportunity for Converteam to provide an innovative solution based upon their own designed and manufactured technologies.

“Our expertise comes from a long history of providing customised solutions to a variety of markets including offshore, renewables and test benches.”

The two firms will look in particular at at the nacelle – the part of the wind turbine that contains components such as the drive train and gearbox – the bit which is behind 20 per cent of failures of wind turbines.

The test rig is planned to be built in Northumberland, which offers access to Dogger Bank where the largest wind array outlined in round three of the Crown Estate’s programme will be built.

The North East’s regional development agency One North East is investing under £10 million in developing the building and infrastructure to support the new test rig as part of its long-term strategy to position North East England as a leading location for the offshore wind industry. Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills said: “Offshore wind provides a tremendous opportunity for UK businesses.

“It’s a new business area, requiring new technology – the turbines needed for the UK offshore wind market are not yet produced anywhere on a commercial scale.

“Testing is key for manufacturers, and today’s announcement is further proof of the UK’s commitment to providing access to world-leading facilities.”