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Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57
Foundation modelling to assess dynamic behaviour of offshore wind turbines
M.B. Zaaijer

DUWIND, Delft University of Technology, P.O. Box 5058, 2600 GB Delft, The Netherlands
Received 22 August 2005; accepted 20 March 2006
Available online 11 September 2006
The dynamic behaviour of wind turbines at offshore locations is more complex than that of both onshore wind turbines and offshore platforms
used in the oil and gas industry. In order to reduce the computational burden, the work presented in this paper aims at simplification of the dynamic
model of the foundation, while maintaining sufficient accuracy. A stiffness matrix at the mudline is found to be the best solution for monopiles.
With respect to the required accuracy, the sensitivity of dynamic behaviour to variations in several parameters is investigated. An inaccuracy
of about 4% can be expected for the first natural frequency. Finally, experimental data is used to determine whether expected accuracy is met
in practice and whether modelling techniques, which are commonly used for offshore structures, can be used for wind turbines on monopile
foundations. For five wind turbines in an offshore wind farm the results corresponded with expectations, but two wind turbines in another farm
gave unexplained higher errors.
c 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Wind energy; Foundations; Dynamics; Modelling; Frequency measurement
1. Introduction
Offshore wind energy is at the threshold of large-scale
application throughout Europe, followed by the US and
Canada [1]. Other regions in the world, particularly Asia, are
currently exploring their potential of offshore wind energy.
After a series of demonstration projects up to 40 MW installed
capacity, mainly at benign sites, the first large offshore wind
farm of 160 MW has been built at the exposed North Sea site
‘Horns Rev’ off the west coast of Denmark.
Right from the beginning of the exploration of offshore
wind energy, the importance of dynamic behaviour for the
design of the support structure was well recognised. The
assessment of dynamic response of offshore wind turbines
differs in some important aspects from that of platforms for
the offshore oil and gas industry on the one hand and onshore
wind turbines on the other. Loading of the rotating wind
turbine blades causes at least two significant extra excitation
frequencies: one at the rotation frequency and one at the blade
passing frequency. Therefore, the first natural frequency of
an offshore wind turbine is wedged between wave and rotor

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excitation frequencies, whereas the natural frequencies of a
fixed platform for the offshore oil industry are usually designed
to be well above the main wave frequencies [2]. In contrast with
common practice in the offshore industry, frequency domain
analysis of dynamic response is seldom used for wind turbines,
even for the fatigue load cases. Due to the highly non-linear
behaviour of aerodynamic loading of the rotor, time domain
simulations are required for accurate assessment of both fatigue
and ultimate limit states [3]. The number of load cases herein
is expanded by the significance of variation in wind conditions
and the operating status of the turbine. The consequential high
computational burden necessitates simple structural models
that capture the most important characteristics of dynamic
Compared with the application of wind turbines onshore
the wave and current climate offshore causes a large extension
of the number of load cases. Besides, the geometry and
dimensions of offshore foundations differ from typical onshore
solutions, resulting particularly in an expected larger influence
of the slender monopile foundation on the dynamic behaviour.
As a consequence of this, the oversimplified foundation model
commonly used in simulation tools for onshore wind turbines
may prove to be too inaccurate.
Given the opposing requirements for accuracy and
simplicity, this paper aims at better insight in the main
0141-1187/$ - see front matter c 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
46 M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57
contributions of the foundation to inaccuracies in dynamic
response. It does so with three activities:
• selection of foundation models with a limited number of
degrees of freedom, but with sufficient ability to model the
dynamic behaviour of the wind turbine,
• investigation of the sensitivity of dynamic behaviour to
variations in several parameters,
• collection of experimental data to determine whether
expected accuracy is met in practice and whether modelling
techniques commonly used for offshore structures can be
used for wind turbines on monopile foundations.
In this paper natural frequencies of the first and second
bending mode of the support structure are taken as the primary
indicators of dynamic response. These natural frequencies are
close to the excitation frequencies of wind, wave and rotor,
meaning that the prediction of the response is very sensitive to
shifts in these frequencies. Vibrations corresponding to higher
natural frequencies are generally excited quasi-statically or by
harmonics of the main rotor excitations with lower energy
content. However, it must be emphasised that these vibrations
may not be disregarded in a comprehensive dynamic analysis.
Part of the work presented in this paper is performed in the
framework of the project ‘Design methods for Offshore Wind
Turbines at Exposed Sites (OWTES)’ [4,5].
2. Foundation models
2.1. Introduction
The assessment of the foundation models is performed
for three types of support structures with pile foundations.
Although gravity bases have been applied for offshore wind
turbines in benign seas, this foundation type is not investigated.
Due to the stiffness of these structures, it is common practice
to use lumped mass, stiffness and damping properties of the
structure–soil interaction and no significant reduction of the
degrees of freedom can be obtained.
The most comprehensive, practicable engineering model
for pile foundations is a finite element model with ‘py’, ‘tz’
and ‘Qz’ curves to represent the pile–soil interaction [6].
Therefore, this model is used as a reference. The commonly
used foundation model for monopile structures in simulation
tools for onshore wind turbines is a single rotation spring at
the mudline, sometimes appended with an uncoupled spring for
horizontal displacements.
2.2. Description of wind turbines and site
The investigation of the foundation models is performed
for the following three support structure concepts with pile
foundations, which are illustrated in Fig. 1.
• tubular tower on a monopile
• tripod and tubular tower with piles
• lattice tower with piles
The support structures are designed for a 3 MW turbine
and typical site conditions for the North Sea. The main
Fig. 1. Schematic representation of concepts with pile foundations.
dimensions of the support structures are given in Appendix A.
The foundation piles of all structures are larger than required
to provide sufficient bearing. This has been done to give these
piles the same stiffness as infinitely long piles and make the
dynamic behaviour of the support structures insensitive to the
pile penetration depth.
For better mutual comparison of the influence of the
foundation on the dynamic behaviour of the different concepts,
the same soil conditions were used for all support structures.
The soil conditions are obtained for a coastal site off the
Netherlands from drilling samples and geological profile maps.
The seabed consists of 12 m medium dense sand on top of a 1 m
thick soft clay layer. The rest of the relevant subsoil is dense
2.3. Description of foundation models
The support structures are modelled in a finite element
analysis program. As stated in the introduction, a full finite
element representation of the pile foundation is used as
a reference model. For the modal analysis, the non-linear
soil–structure interaction is linearised around the stress-free
state. The reference model is illustrated in Fig. 2, along with
the other models explained below. For analysis purposes, for
each of the alternative models the stiffness at the mudline will
be given in accordance with
F = Ku,




0 0 k


. (1)
2.3.1. Effective fixity length
In this model the clamping effect of the soil is replaced by
rigid clamping of the pile at an effective depth belowthe seabed.
For offshore structures Barltrop [7] proposes an effective fixity
length between 3.5 and 8 times the pile diameter, depending
on the soil conditions. Analysis of K¨ uhn [8] leads to values
between 3.3 and 3.7 times the pile diameter for offshore wind
turbines on monopile foundations. The stiffness matrix K at the
mudline of a pile with an effective fixity length l is given by
K =

6 −3l 0
−3l 2l
0 0

. (2)
M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57 47
Fig. 2. Foundation models for piled structures.
2.3.2. Stiffness matrix
Two methods are used to obtain a stiffness matrix that
expresses the stiffness of the pile soil system at seabed level. In
the first approach the unknown elements of the stiffness matrix
are obtained from static analyses of the reference finite element
model. Substituting the results of two lateral load cases 1 and
2 and an axial load case 3 in Eq. (1) results in the following
equation to solve the elements:



0 0
0 x
0 0
0 0 0 z



and k
= k

. (3)
In the second approach Randolph’s elastic continuum model
is used. Randolph performed dimension analysis and finite
element analysis of piles in an elastic continuum to obtain an
expression for the pile head flexibility for piles in an elastic
continuum with a linearly increasing soil shear modulus [9].
The rate of change m of the soil shear modulus is obtained from
a linear fit to the actual modulus obtained from the site data. For
the tripod and lattice tower the vertical degree of freedom is
constrained, as this method provides no value for the axial pile
stiffness. The other elements in the stiffness matrix are given by
= 4.52 m






= k
= −2.40 m





= 2.16 m





and m

= m ·

1 +

. (5)
2.3.3. Uncoupled springs
In this model the coupled stiffness of the pile head is
simplified to independent springs for each relevant degree of
freedom. In Fig. 2 the springs are illustrated only for the lateral
translation and the rotation. For the tripod and lattice tower this
is combined with a spring for the vertical degree of freedom. To
obtain the stiffness of the spring elements both the force method
and the displacement method are applied, using the reference
finite element model. The spring stiffness of the uncoupled
springs can be determined from the stiffness matrix using
Displacement method: K =

0 0
0 k
0 0 k

or (6)
Force method: K =



0 0
0 k


0 0 k

. (7)
The non-linearity of the soil–structure interaction will result
in small deviations in the values obtained by substituting the
results of Eq. (3) into Eq. (6) or Eq. (7) and those obtained with
the finite element analysis. This will be ignored in the analysis.
2.3.4. Element reduction
To assess the relative importance of various elements of
the foundation models, for several models the flexibility in
certain directions has been constrained. The foundation of the
tripod and lattice tower has been analysed with only axial
flexibility and with only lateral flexibility. The monopile has
been analysed with only rotation at the mudline, with spring
stiffness according to the force method.
2.4. Basis for the analysis
The differences between the different models will be
interpreted using the kinetic and strain energy content of
the vibration modes. In free vibration, energy is exchanged
between these two types of energy and according to Rayleigh’s
approach equating their maxima results in the following
equation for the natural frequency [10]:

k(s) · f (Ψ(s))
· ds

m(s) · Ψ(s)
· ds
strain energy V
(kinetic energy K)/ω
, (8)
48 M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57
Fig. 3. Predicted first natural frequencies for several foundation models.
where the function of the mode shape Ψ in the numerator
is either a displacement, rotation or curvature, depending on
the corresponding stiffness k. Although Rayleigh’s method
is normally applied to estimate the first natural frequency,
Eq. (8) is also valid for higher natural frequencies when the
corresponding mode shape is substituted. The finite element
analysis provides the maximum strain and kinetic energy, as
well as the mode shapes for the reference model. In a first order
approximation, the mode shapes for the alternative foundation
models are assumed to be identical to the mode shapes of
the reference model. Since the alternative foundation models
only represent the stiffness of the foundation, the contribution
of the foundation to the denominator of Eq. (8) drops out
and the numerator is affected by the changed stiffness. Using
the deflection and rotation at the mudline, the strain energy
contained in the springs and stiffness matrices are obtained
V =
Ku =
xθ +
. (9)
Eq. (9) separates the contribution of the displacements, the
rotation and the coupling effect and can therefore be used to
determine their relative importance to Eq. (8).
2.5. Results and discussion
For each of the support structures and foundation models
the first and second natural frequency are determined with a
modal analysis and normalised with the results for the reference
model. Note that only Randolph’s stiffness matrix and the
effective fixity length are independent of the reference model,
which is used for pre-analysis of the other foundation models.
The results are plotted in Figs. 3 and 4. Table 1 provides
the strain and kinetic energy of the finite element analysis.
It is plausible to focus foundation modelling on stiffness
properties for the analysed lower natural frequencies. When the
Fig. 4. Predicted second natural frequencies for several foundation models (see
Fig. 3 for legend).
Table 1
Normalised kinetic and strain energy of the finite element analysis
Energy type Monopile Tripod Lattice tower
1st mode
Kinetic Tower 1 1 1
0.00032 1.9 ×10
Strain Tower 0.69 0.97 0.90
Foundation 0.31 0.03 0.10
2nd mode
Kinetic Tower 0.98 0.99 0.98
0.02 0.01 0.02
Strain Tower 0.50 0.41 0.42
Foundation 0.50 0.59 0.58
Inertia and kinetic energy of soil is neglected.
inertia of the foundation is negligible, the pile deformations
during free vibration correspond with the static response to
the loading at the pile head caused by the inertia forces in
the tower. In that case, the behaviour of the foundation can be
represented completely by a stiffness matrix. This is confirmed
by the good correspondence between the natural frequencies
obtained with the reference model and with the stiffness matrix
that was created from the reference model. Therefore, results
obtained with this stiffness matrix will sometimes be used as
a reference in the discussion of the relevance of the degrees of
The high strain energy content of the monopile foundation
in the first vibration mode demonstrates a significant influence
of the foundation on the natural frequency according to Eq. (8).
Therefore, the strain energy of that foundation is further divided
according to Eq. (9) as given in Table 2.
In the next paragraphs the results are discussed per model.
M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57 49
Table 2
Normalised energy content of monopile foundation for different models
Fixity length Fixity length Fixity length FEM matrix Randolph’s matrix Force method Displacement method
6D 4D 2D
1st mode
Horizontal 0.38 1.27 10.14 0.56 0.61 0.21 0.56
Rotation 0.84 1.26 2.52 0.80 0.87 0.29 0.80
Coupling −0.97 −2.19 −8.76 −1.06 −1.12 0.00 0.00
Total 0.24 0.34 3.90 0.31 0.36 0.50 1.36
2nd mode
Horizontal 0.78 2.65 21.16 1.18 1.27 0.44 1.17
Rotation 1.21 1.82 3.64 1.15 1.25 0.42 1.15
Coupling −1.69 −3.80 −15.20 −1.84 −1.94 0.00 0.00
Total 0.31 0.66 9.60 0.50 0.58 0.85 2.32
2.5.1. Effective fixity length
Both first and second natural frequency of the tripod and
lattice tower correspond with the reference for an effective
fixity depth of approximately 6 times the pile diameter. This is
in agreement with the suggested value for general calculations
for offshore platforms, since the mode shape of the foundation
and the pile diameter are similar for these structures. The best
effective fixity depth of the tubular tower is in the order of 4
times the pile diameter, in agreement with earlier studies of
monopile behaviour. The difference with the tripod and lattice
tower may be contributed to the larger diameter of the pile,
but also to the different mode shape of the vibration. Table 2
indicates that around the best fit for the fixity length the ratios
between the horizontal, vertical and coupling contributions are
similar to those of the stiffness matrix based on the reference
The results of this model are very sensitive to the selected
effective fixity length. The tabulated values of the effective
fixity length show a large variation as a function of soil
conditions. Therefore, large inaccuracies of natural frequency
must be anticipated for a priori assumed fixity lengths.
2.5.2. FEM based stiffness matrix
As discussed earlier, the stiffness matrix based on finite
element analysis gives a good match for the first two natural
frequencies, according to expectations. Small differences may
occur due to non-linear soil–structure interaction, which leads
to variation of foundation stiffness with changing loading
conditions and due to small contributions of inertia of the
foundation. The mode shapes of higher natural frequencies
will have larger relative displacements in the foundation and
consequently a larger influence of inertia of the pile and soil.
2.5.3. Randolph’s linear elastic model
The first natural frequencies obtained with Randolph’s
model correspond within 2.5% with the finite element model.
It must be noted that Randolph’s model assumes that the piles
are longer than a critical pile length and thus have the same
behaviour as infinitely long piles. When the pile length is
below the critical pile length the increased flexibility of the pile
will not be revealed by Randolph’s model. Furthermore, the
natural frequency with the finite element foundation model is
obtained for the linear region of the stress–strain curves. When
large deflections are expected the non-linear effect will not be
revealed with the linear model. Part of the error made with
Randolph’s model for the tripod and lattice tower is caused by
the omission of axial pile flexibility. This omission is discussed
2.5.4. Uncoupled lateral and rotation springs
When the displacement method is used to determine
spring stiffness, extra constraints are introduced, which cause
increased stiffness, increased energy content in the foundation
according to Eq. (9) and increased natural frequency. For the
tripod and lattice structure, the extra constraint to determine
the horizontal stiffness corresponds closely with the pile head
constraint due to the structure. Therefore, the increase in natural
frequency is smaller than for the monopile. As Table 2 shows,
the contribution of coupling to the energy content is large for the
monopile and this subtraction from the energy is not achieved
with the displacement method.
Some of the flexibility associated with the coupling between
translation and rotation is recovered in the force method, as
can be seen from Eq. (7). This leads to a reduction in the
energy content of the monopile and therefore a better match
of the natural frequency. For the tripod and lattice tower this
extra flexibility is associated with a release of the clamping
constrained at the pile head and therefore this model provides a
lower natural frequency than the reference model.
2.5.5. Reduction of degrees of freedom
The foundation models are further simplified by fixing some
degrees of freedom. In this case the assumption that the mode
shape of the reference model can be used in Eq. (8) is not valid,
since that mode shape does not meet the boundary conditions
set by the extra constraints. By constraining a degree of freedom
the effect of the foundation model on the mode shape of the
tower above the mudline becomes more pronounced. Therefore,
Table 2 cannot be used to interpret the energy content of the
foundation for the remaining degrees of freedom.
For the monotower Figs. 3 and 4 show that the use of a
rotational spring only does not result in a large difference with
the results with uncoupled springs. As discussed before, the
force method provides the best results in this situation. The
50 M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57
Fig. 5. Schematic representations of concepts with gravity base foundations.
rotation flexibility of the monopile leads to large displacement
of the tower top mass and the associated kinetic energy
dominates the contribution associated with the horizontal
For the tripod and lattice tower, the use of only a lateral
stiffness matrix gives less deviation than the model with only
axial springs. Due to the lateral flexibility of the piles, which is
at least an order of magnitude higher than the axial flexibility,
the horizontal translation of the tower is a more important
contribution to the kinetic energy than its rotation. The wide
base of these structures results in a small displacement of the
tower top mass associated with the axial flexibility of the piles.
3. Parameter sensitivity of dynamic behaviour
3.1. Introduction
Several parameters contribute to the dynamic behaviour of
an offshore wind turbine, through their contributions to stiffness
and inertia. The causes of the variations in these parameters that
are assessed in this sensitivity study are:
• Uncertainty: e.g. measurement inaccuracy
• Lifetime: e.g. aging effects
• Location: e.g. changes within a wind farm
Many parameters that describe the soil and foundation
are varied. Some environmental and structural parameters are
varied as well to provide insight in the relative importance of the
sensitivities. Very large variations in environmental conditions,
water depth or morphology may require changes in the support
structure designs, which have not been considered in this study.
3.2. Description of wind turbines and sites
The sensitivity analysis is performed for the same three
support structures used in the investigation of the foundation
models. In addition, a tubular tower and a lattice tower on
gravity base foundations are evaluated. These concepts are
illustrated in Fig. 5 and the main dimensions are given in
Appendix A. The only support structure not designed for North
Sea conditions is the tubular tower on a gravity base structure
(GBS), which is designed for the Baltic Sea between Denmark,
Germany and Sweden. The lattice tower is the same for the pile
foundation and the gravity base structure, but the two tubular
towers have different dimensions. The site conditions are the
same as those used in the study of the foundation models and
are described in Section 2.2.
3.3. Description of models and parameter variations
The support structures are modelled in a finite element
analysis program in the same way as in Section 2. For the
pile foundations a full finite element model is used, equivalent
with the reference model used in Section 2. For gravity base
structures the structure soil interaction is represented with
uncoupled springs according to the API [6] and dampers and
masses according to Barltrop [7], lumped at the centre of the
contact surface.
The effect of scour on pile foundation stiffness is modelled
with a linear overburden reduction model. The effective vertical
soil pressure from the soil at the level of the scour hole is
effective below an overburden reduction depth 6 times the pile
diameter and decreases linearly to zero at the bottom of the
scour pit.
The selected models for soil behaviour and soil–structure
express the influence of the parameters that are varied in
this study. The assessed parameter variations are listed in
Appendix B. The ranges of the parameter variations are
assessed for the different causes mentioned in the introduction
to this Section. Several publications are used in this assessment,
but remaining issues are based on expert opinion. For
parameters that were not inherently defined by the support
structure design or the reference site a suitable reference value
has been selected. Only one-dimensional parameter variations
were performed, with all other parameters at their reference
value. Each variation consisted of five points, including the
extreme values of the parameter range and its reference
3.4. Basis for the analysis
To get more insight in the aspects that dominate the
sensitivity, Eq. (8) is further analysed. First, the sensitivity
S is defined as the ratio between the relative change of
the dependent parameter ω and the relative change of the
independent parameter x:


· x
The derivative of the first natural frequency to changes in a local
parameter x can be obtained fromEq. (8), by noting that the first
natural frequency leads to a minimum value in this equation.
Therefore, the derivative of Eq. (8) with respect to changes in
the mode shape equals zero. As a result, only the derivatives of
the mass and stiffness distribution are involved, leading to

· f (Ψ(s))
· ds −

· Ψ(s)
· ds

m(s) · Ψ(s)
· ds
. (10)

x, m(s)

x (11)
M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57 51
Fig. 6. Relative energy distribution for first mode.
Fig. 7. Relative energy distribution for second mode.
in Eq. (10) and using the definition for sensitivity, leads to

· k(s) · f (Ψ(s))
· ds −

· m(s) · Ψ(s)
· ds

m(s) · Ψ(s)
· ds
. (12)
The first factor in the numerator equals the integral of the local
sensitivity of the stiffness to the independent parameter times
the local content of the strain energy. The second factor is a
similar integral containing the kinetic energy. Thus, the local
kinetic and strain energies are useful parameters to analyse the
sensitivity. Note that the local kinetic and strain energy also
provide insight in the distribution of the contributions to the
natural frequency itself, as can be seen in Eq. (8) and as used in
the analysis of the foundation models.
3.5. Results and discussion
For each of the support structures the energy distribution
in the first and second mode is plotted in Figs. 6 and 7,
respectively, normalised with the total energy of the vibration.
The jagged character of the distributions is caused by the
transitions in the structure and meshing of the finite element
model. First, the energy distribution for the first mode is
discussed in more detail.
For all support structures the kinetic energy is concentrated
in the rotor–nacelle assembly, with a small contribution from
the tower near the top. The monopile strain energy increases
at approximately 12 m, where the tower has a conical drop to
smaller diameters. The dip between 16 and 21 m is caused by
the very rigid grouted connection. The strain energy decreases
toward the top, where the bending curvature decreases and
the largest bending in the pile occurs a few metres below the
seabed. Although the geometry of the tubular tower on a gravity
base is slightly different from that of the monopile structure, the
pattern of the energy distribution is similar. The strain energy
in the tripod largely occurs near the joint of the braces at 25 m.
Below the joint the high stiffness of the tripod results in very
52 M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57
Table 3
Dominant frequency deviations due to parameter variations (symbols according to Appendix B)
Uncertainty Lifetime Location
Tubular tower on a monopile
Soil 4% (ϕ) 6% (Z
) 4% (ϕ)
Foundation 0.06% (t) – –
Environment – 0.1% (sl) 0.1% (msl)
Structure 0.02% (D) 4% (m
) 4% (m
Tubular tower on a gravity base
Soil 19% (G) 4% (G) 35% (G)
Foundation 0.01% (D) – –
Environment – 0.03% (sl) 0.03% (msl)
Structure 0.2% (t) 4% (m
) 4% (m
Tripod with piles
Soil 0.9% (ϕ) 0.7% (S
) 0.9% (ϕ)
Foundation <0.01% (t) – –
Environment – 0.01% (sl) 0.01% (msl)
Structure 0.1% (t) 3.2% (m
) 3.2% (m
Lattice tower with pile
Soil 3% (ϕ) 3% (S
) 3% (ϕ)
Foundation 0.01% (t) – –
Environment – 0.04% (sl) 0.04% (msl)
Structure 0.04% (m
) 4% (m
) 4% (m
Lattice tower on gravity bases
Soil 23% (G) 7.8% (G) 38% (G)
Foundation 0.01% (m) – –
Environment – 0.02% (sl) 0.02% (msl)
Structure 0.04% (m
) 4% (m
) 4% (m
small deformations. The large, but narrow, peak of strain energy
near the seabed is caused by the accumulated strain energy of
the base members. The strain energy distribution of the lattice
tower is very jagged, due to changes in the geometry and in
member dimensions. Apparently the section around 25 m is
fairly rigid.
For all piled structures the strain energy associated with the
lateral compression of the soil is concentrated in the first 10 m
below the seabed. The strain energy associated with the axial
shear of the soil, which is only relevant for the tripod and lattice
tower, is very small.
The contribution of the kinetic energy of the piles is
negligible, which is due to the small displacements. The mass of
the soil is not included in the pile model, but it is expected that
the kinetic energy of the soil is similarly negligible. Likewise,
the kinetic energy of the gravity base and soil add up to less
than 1% of the total energy content. For the monopile the strain
energy in the pile exceeds the strain energy in the soil, which
indicates dominance of pile stiffness over soil stiffness. The
difference is less pronounced for the tripod and the lattice tower.
The strain energy in the soil below the gravity base of the
tubular tower and the lattice tower is not negligible, being 10%
and 17%, respectively. The results for the relative strain energy
of the foundations lead one to expect the largest sensitivity
to the foundation parameters for the monopile and the largest
influence of the soil parameters for the gravity base structures.
The tripod and particularly the lattice tower have larger strain
energy in lateral compression of the soil than in axial shear.
This indicates larger sensitivity to lateral behaviour, especially
because the pile strain energy is expected to be contained
mainly in lateral bending.
In the second mode the rotor–nacelle assembly becomes a
pivot and the kinetic energy reduces to much smaller values.
Because the largest displacements for this mode shape occur
at a lower position, the kinetic energy is concentrated in the
middle section of the support structures and the contributions
of the foundations to the kinetic and strain energy increase.
As a consequence, the second natural frequency will be much
more sensitive to the foundation parameters than the first
natural frequency. In particular, structures with gravity base
foundations are expected to be very sensitive.
For each of the support structures the first and second natural
frequencies are determined for five values of the parameter
variations given in Appendix B. The natural frequencies
obtained with the reference value for each of the parameters
are taken as references and these are included in the support
structure descriptions in Appendix A. The deviations of
the natural frequencies from the references are taken as a
percentage of the reference values. The maximum deviations
for each of the support structures and for each type of parameter
variation are presented in Table 3 and are discussed below per
support structure type.
3.5.1. Tubular tower on a monopile
The most important uncertainty, relating to the soil friction
angle, is manageable in the design process of the support
M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57 53
Table 4
Specifications of measured turbines
Farm (turbine ID) Lely (A2) Lely (A3) Irene Vorrink
Type NM41 idem NTK 600
Power 500 kW idem 600 kW
Rotor diameter (m) 40.77 idem 43
Hub height (m) 41.5 idem 51
Topmass (kg) 32,000 idem 35,700
Water depth (m) 4.6 9.6 3–3.8
Cross section (m
) ∅3.7 ×0.035 ∅3.2 ×0.035 ∅3.5 ×0.028
Penetration (m) 20.9 13.9 ∅19
Diameter (conical) (m) 1.9–3.2 idem 1.7–3.5
Wall thickness (m) 0.012 idem 0.008–0.014
in steps
structure. The variation during the lifetime due to local scour
is less than 6% and this does not imply that scour protection
should be necessarily applied to avoid changes in dynamic
In addition to the parameter variations, the natural frequency
of a tubular tower on a monopile has been determined for
increasing loading conditions, to assess the effect of the non-
linear soil–structure interaction. At maximum loading, the
natural frequency relating to the secant stiffness reduced by 3%
for the first mode and 7% for the second mode.
3.5.2. Tubular tower on a gravity base structure
In the reference situation the natural frequency of this
support structure is higher than that of a tubular tower on
a monopile. This difference is mainly caused by the smaller
water depth, the lower hub height and the different tower
design, rather than by the different foundation. As expected, this
structure is more sensitive to soil parameters than the monopile.
In this analysis no scour is assumed, since this foundation type
would need protection against scour.
3.5.3. Tripod with piles
Of all analysed structures the tripod is least sensitive to
parameter variations. The foundation is stiff compared to the
rest of the structure and due to its mass the upper part of the
tower contains a high fraction of the kinetic energy of the first
mode. The latter effect reduces the influence of changes in
rotor–nacelle mass.
3.5.4. Lattice tower with piles
With respect to the first natural frequency this structure is
particularly less sensitive to scour than the monopile. Because
of the high stiffness of the tower, this structure is more sensitive
to flexibility of the foundation than the tripod.
3.5.5. Lattice tower with a gravity base structure
This structure is most sensitive to soil parameters, consistent
with its large relative strain energy in the soil. Unlike the tripod,
the upper region of this structure has a low mass and therefore
the first natural frequency is more sensitive to changes in the
rotor–nacelle mass.
The frequency deviation of the second natural frequency
due to variation in soil parameters is 10%–20% for pile
foundations and larger than 50% for GBS foundations. These
larger sensitivities are consistent with the expectation based on
the analysis of the energy distribution. The frequency deviation
due to changes in environmental parameters is up to 3.5%, but
this will generally be negligible compared with the frequency
deviation due to soil parameters. The frequency deviation due
to changes in foundation and structure parameters is less than
4. Experimental validation for monopiles
4.1. Introduction
With complete freedom of the pile head for rotation, the
deformations of the monopile differ from piles in jackets
or sleeves, and at 4 m, the pile diameter is much larger
than in typical offshore structures. The applicability of
modelling techniques that are commonly used for offshore
structure is analysed in depth in several studies, e.g. by
Wiemann [11]. Here, the applicability is assessed from
an empirical perspective, by comparison of predicted and
measured system behaviour. The natural frequencies of the
support structures of five wind turbines in the wind farm ‘Irene
Vorrink’ and two wind turbines in the wind farm ‘Lely’ are
measured and compared with estimates from finite element
modal analysis. Both wind farms are located in the inland sea
‘IJsselmeer’ in the Netherlands.
4.2. Description of wind turbines, sites, measurement set-up
and modelling
The wind turbines are of the
MW class. The specifications
of the turbines are given in Table 4. Note that the two wind
turbines in the ‘Lely’ farm have different pile dimensions,
which is a result of tuning the natural frequency for the different
water depths and soil conditions.
54 M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57
Fig. 8. Power spectrum of acceleration in the y-direction (Irene Vorrink,
Turbine 12).
For the analysed wind turbines cone penetration test data
was available. The support structure was modelled in the same
way as explained in Section 2, with the finite element reference
model for the foundation.
The movement of the tower top was measured by
accelerometers in the nacelle [12]. The first and second natural
frequencies were determined from the spectra obtained from
about 16 h measurements with the turbine both in operation and
with a parked rotor. The resonance peaks in the spectra were
enhanced with spline interpolation.
4.3. Basis for the analysis
The following main sources of errors are identified to explain
the differences between the measurements and finite element
• Frequency measurements
◦ Acceleration measurements
◦ Data processing and interpretation
• Modal analysis
◦ Finite element approach
◦ Input data for soil and structure
◦ Soil–structure interaction model.
After processing, the resolution to determine peaks in the
spectrum was approximately 0.002 Hz and a similar absolute
accuracy is expected. The most critical step in the frequency
measurements is the interpretation of the spectrum. An example
of a measured power spectrum is given in Fig. 8, with peaks
at several frequencies. The first natural frequency is clearly
present at slightly more than 0.5 Hz, but is flanked by a rotor
excitation at 0.45 Hz. The second natural frequency is identified
at 3.3 Hz, but other peaks are present in the spectrum. Some
peaks could be eliminated through comparison of the spectra
with an operating and a parked rotor, an indication of the natural
frequencies of the blades and the expectation based on the finite
element analysis. However, misinterpretation of the spectrum is
possible for the second natural frequency.
With the used mesh the error caused by the finite
element approach is negligible. The expected error caused by
inaccuracies in the input data is in the order of 4% for the
first natural frequency and 10%–20% for the second natural
frequency. This expectation is based on the results of the
sensitivity study, which are presented in Section 3.5. The
remaining error, caused by the soil–structure interaction model,
is the main unknown for this type and size of foundation.
It is known from offshore practices that the model tends to
underpredict the foundation stiffness. As a consequence, actual
natural frequencies are usually higher than the predicted ones.
4.4. Results and discussion
Table 5 presents the predicted and measured natural
frequencies for the wind farms ‘Irene Vorrink’ and ‘Lely’. The
differences are given as a percentage of the measured frequency.
Except for turbine 7 in the wind farm ‘Irene Vorrink’,
all predicted natural frequencies are below the measured
frequencies. This is consistent with the notion that p–y
curves tend to underestimate the stiffness of the soil–structure
4.4.1. Wind farm ‘Irene Vorrink’
The results for ‘Irene Vorrink’ are consistent with the results
of the parameter sensitivity study, where an uncertainty in the
order of 4% was found for a tubular tower. However, it must
be noted that the parameter sensitivity study was performed for
a different support structure at a different location and that the
systematic underestimation of the soil–structure stiffness was
not included. The difference in the wind farm ‘Irene Vorrink’
is largest for turbine 3. According to the cone penetration test
at this site the stiffer sandy soil starts approximately 3 m lower
than at the other sites and the sensitivity study shows that the
prediction is sensitive for uncertainties in the upper part of the
foundation, such as scour.
The differences in the second natural frequencies are larger
than in the first natural frequencies. These differences are of
similar magnitude as the uncertainty found in the sensitivity
study for the tubular tower. However, the results for the second
natural frequency must be considered carefully, since the higher
frequencies are more difficult to identify, as discussed in the
previous section.
4.4.2. Wind farm ‘Lely’
The differences for the natural frequencies of the turbines in
the wind farm ‘Lely’ are very high, particularly for turbine A2.
This was found earlier in a comparison of a finite element model
prediction with measurements performed by ECN [13,14]. The
results of that study are also given in Table 5, along with the
values used in the design phase. Given the rotation frequency
of 0.53 Hz and a blade passing frequency of 1.06 Hz for this
two-bladed rotor, the measured natural frequency appeared to
be between these two rotor excitation frequencies, whereas it
was designed to be below both.
No explanation has been found for the large difference for
turbine A2. A sensitivity study for this particular turbine was
M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57 55
Table 5
Predicted and measured frequencies of offshore wind turbines
Turbine 1st mode (Hz) 2nd mode (Hz)
Predicted Measured Difference Predicted Measured Difference
Irene Vorrink
3 0.517 0.546 −5.3% 2.5 3.3 −24%
7 0.557 0.554 0.5% 3.2 3.3 −3%
12 0.542 0.553 −2.0% 3.0 3.3 −9%
23 0.544 0.563 −3.4% 3.0 3.3 −9%
28 0.541 0.560 −3.4% 3.0 3.3 −9%
A2 0.399 0.634 37% 1.6 3.7 57%
A3 0.672 0.735 9% 2.6 4.0 35%
A2 0.44 Hz 0.63 Hz 0.41 Hz
A3 0.72 Hz 0.72 Hz 0.68 Hz
Obtained from earlier studies.
performed in the earlier study, but the resulting variations in the
natural frequency were much lower. Since the measurements of
the two independent studies agree it is expected that there is
a difference between the input for the structural or foundation
model of this turbine and the actual situation, although this
could not be investigated within the timescale and scope of the
current study.
5. Conclusions and recommendations
The work presented in this paper is based on several
concepts for support structures, several wind turbines and
several locations with typical soil conditions for the North
Sea between the Netherlands and the UK. Therefore, the
interpretation of the results covers a broad area of applicability.
However, it must be noted that the results themselves are related
to very specific situations and that deviating configurations may
require some duplication of the outlined procedures to confirm
or deny the generic nature of the conclusions.
5.1. Foundation models
The natural frequencies obtained with Randolph’s linear
elastic model approximate the results of the comprehensive
reference model, with less than 2%deviation for the first natural
frequency and 6% for the second natural frequency. However,
the soil of this case study is nearly uniform, as assumed
in Randolph’s model, and the model may perform worse
for irregular soil profiles. Randolph’s method will not reveal
the influence of loading conditions outside the linear region
of the soil–structure interaction. However, with a maximum
deviation of 3% for the first natural frequency at extreme
loading conditions, this influence is negligible for the loading
conditions that dominate fatigue.
The appropriate value of the effective fixity length depends
on pile stiffness, soil properties and mode shape, and this
dependency is not rigorously represented in tabulated values.
Due to the large sensitivity of the predicted natural frequency
to the effective fixity depth this model is strongly discouraged
as an a priori model for analysis beyond an initial guess of
support structure behaviour. An effective fixity depth could be
determined from a reference model or from measurements, but
as a single parameter model only one natural frequency can be
matched. A sensitivity study is always recommended when this
model is applied.
The other investigated models are derived models and in
this study they are based on the finite element model. The first
and second natural frequency obtained with a stiffness matrix
with coupled lateral behaviour gives very good correspondence
with the finite element foundation model. When inertia effects
in the foundation and non-linear soil–structure interaction are
negligible this stiffness matrix models all relevant behaviour.
Therefore, the applicability of this model may be extrapolated
to the lower bending modes of all practicable pile foundations
for wind turbines under loading conditions that are relevant for
the fatigue analysis. The stiffness matrix has far fewer degrees
of freedom than the comprehensive finite element model and
will therefore reduce the computations in dynamic analyses.
The uncoupled springs and reduction of degrees of freedom
give larger deviations from the reference model and do not
give a significant reduction of computations compared to the
stiffness matrix. Therefore, their use is not recommended.
Although axial bearing capacity may dominate the design
of piles for tripods and lattice towers, this study shows that
lateral flexibility may dominate axial flexibility with respect to
dynamic behaviour.
5.2. Parameter sensitivity
Soil parameters dominate the uncertainty of the natural
frequency and its variation within a wind farm and during
the lifetime of the support structure. Although the sensitivity
to soil parameters needs consideration for the pile structures,
it is within practicable margins, even for the monopile. The
first natural frequency of the monopile showed a sensitivity
of approximately 4% to variation in the soil friction angle.
With a decrease of the first natural frequency of less than 6%
for a local scour hole of 2 times the pile diameter, the added
variation in dynamic behaviour does not block the option to
56 M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57
omit scour protect. Typical variations of the natural frequencies
of the tripod and lattice tower with pile foundations are only 1%
and 3%, respectively, for the cases analysed in this study. The
tripod is least sensitive to parameter variations, which makes
it the preferred concept when precise prediction of dynamic
behaviour is essential, e.g. when resonance can only be avoided
in narrow bands in the load spectrum.
The sensitivity of gravity base structures appears to be
much larger. However, the analysis of the GBS is based on
a rather simple foundation model and a conservatively large
variation of soil parameters. An uncertainty of approximately
20% was found for the first natural frequency. The natural
frequency may vary to a large extent between different locations
within the wind farm. Therefore, it is possible that the design
of the gravity base needs to vary within the wind farm, to
tune dynamic behaviour. Furthermore, to perform design and
validation calculations for different locations within the wind
farm detailed knowledge of the local soil conditions will be
Rotor–nacelle mass causes a relatively large variation
in the natural frequency, under the assumption that up to
10% variation in total mass can occur when components
from different suppliers are used. However, configuration
management can avoid this. Other parameter variations relating
to the structure cause a variation of the first natural frequency
of less than 0.2%.
5.3. Comparison of predictions with measurements
The predicated first natural frequencies of five turbines in
the wind farm ‘Irene Vorrink’ are within expectable deviations
fromthe measured frequencies. The largest deviation was 5.3%.
The soil profile at the site of this turbine differs slightly from
that of the other turbines, which show a difference of less than
3.5% between prediction and measurement. This indicates that
information of the local soil profiles is important, especially in
case variability in the depth of the first stiff soil layer can be
One of the turbines in the wind farm ‘Lely’ showed a
large difference of 9% between the predicted and measured
first natural frequency. An earlier study for the same turbine
resulted in a slightly smaller difference, but this could not
be reproduced. Moreover, the current prediction is close to
the design value, which is a prediction without a posteriori
knowledge. For the other turbine in the wind farm ‘Lely’,
the predictions of the natural frequency of this study, an
earlier study and the design study all deviated more than 30%
from the measured value. The earlier study has investigated
this difference extensively, without success. The difference
can also not be explained by the results of the parameter
sensitivity study. A comprehensive re-assessment of the
structural parameters and soil data for the support structure
to model the actual situation would be required to get new
The work presented in this paper is part of the project
OWTES, which has received substantial funding from the
EC. Contributions of Mr. M. van der Kraan and Mr. S.
Kay of Fugro Engineers BV to pile foundation modelling
are gratefully acknowledged, as well as contributions to the
sensitivity analysis of gravity base structures and review of the
work by Mr. U. Mirza of John Brown Ltd.
Appendix A. Main properties of analysed support struc-
Table 6 provides the main properties of the support structures
used in the sensitivity study. The piled support structures are
also used in the analysis of foundation models.
Table 6
Main properties of analysed support structures
Tubular/monopile Tubular/GBS Tripod/piles Lattice/piles Lattice/GBS
Hub height above MSL (m) 60 54.5 69.2 59
Rotor–nacelle mass (kg) 130,000 130,000 130,000 130,000 130,000
Water depth (m) 21 15 25 25 25
First natural frequency (Hz) 0.291 0.471 0.455 0.725 0.715
Second natural frequency (Hz) 1.33 1.48 1.25 2.26 2.36
Diameter (m) 2.8–3.5 one transition 3–4 in steps 3–4.5 in steps 0.32–0.85 members 0.32–0.85 members
Wall thickness (m) 0.02–0.075 in steps 0.025–0.045 in steps 0.025–0.045 in steps 0.012–0.03 members 0.012–0.03 members
Braces (m×m) ∅1.75 ×0.038
Base radius (m) 30.75 28.9
Cross section (m×m) ∅3.5 ×0.075 ∅1.2 ×0.02 ∅1.2 ×0.02
Penetration (m) 50 50 50
Diameter (m) 25 9
Height (m) 3.5 2
Density (not submerged) (kg/m
) 2400 2400
The different hub height is caused by the height of the gravity bases.
M.B. Zaaijer / Applied Ocean Research 28 (2006) 45–57 57
Table 7
Parameter variations and reference values
Symbol Uncertainty Location variation Lifetime variation Reference value
Effective unit weight γ

±10% ±10% Soil profile
Friction angle ϕ ±10% ±10% Soil profile
Coefficient of lateral earth pressure K 0.7–1.0 0.7–1.0 0.8
Poisson’s ratio ν 0.4–0.5 0.4–0.5 0.5
Shear modulus of elasticity G ∗/5
From model
Initial modulus of subgrade reaction k ∗/2
From model
Position of characteristic soil layer transition Z
±1 m ±5 m Soil profile
General scour S
−2–0 m 0
Local scour S
0–2 D 0
Postholing gap Z
0–3 D 0
Pile diameter D ±0.1% Appendix A
Pile wall thickness t ±0.5% Appendix A
GBS diameter D ±0.1% Appendix A
GBS mass m ±0.1% Appendix A
Marine growth t 0–50 mm 0
Sea level sl ±3 m Appendix A
Water depth msl ±3 m – Appendix A
Rotor–nacelle mass m
±0.1% ±10% ±10% Appendix A
Fittings mass m
±0.1% 1 ×10
kg at 15 m MSL
Cable and ladder mass m
±0.1% 100 kg/m
Diameter D ±0.1% Appendix A
Wall thickness t ±0.5% Appendix A
Vertical position h ±0.1 m Appendix A
The reference value is multiplied and or divided by this factor.
Appendix B. Parameters of the sensitivity study
Table 7 provides a list of parameters used in the sensitivity
analysis, along with the applied range and reference values.
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