Offshore engineering centre: A complete package from ABB

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The Swedish port of Karlskrona is the home to the ABB High Voltage cables division. This is where HVDC and HVAC cables for the offshore industry are designed and produced since mid of last century. Today the infield and the export cables for offshore wind farms are part of the portfolio. The offshore cable installation works are also coordinated from Karlskrona. Recently ABB have added a new operation to their submarine cable business to develop the growth in their offshore cables division, the Offshore Engineering Centre.

In April Offshore WIND was invited to hear exactly what this new concept in cable care has to offer. This huge multinational engineering company, ranked 143 in the world with a global turnover of over $39bn, employing 146,000 people in 100 countries, was formed in 1988 by the merger of the Swedish ASEA and the Swiss Brown Boveri Company.

Both companies had a long history of manufacturing generators and electrical machinery since the late 19th century. The merged company has its corporate headquarters in the Swiss city of Zurich and today it has the prestige of being the largest builder of electricity grids in the world… and a company of this size is exactly what is needed in the offshore wind industry to help it achieve the vast latent potential. Due to the combination of factors including the closure of many European nuclear power plants, the rush of offshore wind farms planned and already in operation, and the storage of power generation in hydro batteries, there has never before been a more urgent need for a super grid.

To strengthen the expertise and increase the level of control in project execution ABB has recently opened a specialised Offshore Engineering Centre in Rotterdam to support and coordinate the cable installation works.

The Offshore Engineering Team chose Rotterdam for the site to base their operations for 2 reasons. First of all there is a vast amount of knowledge, facilities and capacity available in this industrial centre. Secondly the port of Rotterdam lies close to the potential market with excellent access to the North Sea enabling specialists from the Offshore Engineering Centre fast access to the cable site. From their offices on the outskirts of Rotterdam a small team of engineers, with manager Jan Flinke, specially selected for their experience and enthusiasm, are able to respond quickly and efficiently to provide solutions to any client’s situation or plans.


A recent example of the ABB submarine cable solutions include the BritNed cable project connecting the UK to the Netherlands with a 260km long cable from the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary to the Dutch coast at Maasvlakte where the Port of Rotterdam’s Europoort is sited. ABB was responsible for the design, supply and installation of the HVDC cables. The local ABB team at that time provided solutions for the work at all stages from the marine survey and route engineering to the cable lay, cable covering and rock dumping.

Although not connected to offshore wind, this previous project was a good moment in submarine cable operations and provided much experience for the new team in HVDC/HVAC cable operations. Here the Offshore Engineering Centre was born.

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It is not only the experience in the planning and laying of cables but also the manufacture of the cables being laid where ABB excel. Whether AC or DC is selected the company can provide well developed and tested products. To date the majority of offshore wind farms have been connected to the on shore grid with AC. For shorter AC cable connections their cross linked polyethylene cables (XPLE) are tested and proven to be able to withstand the environmental conditions and contact with oil and solvents, conductor temperatures as high as 90°C and still maintain good dimensional stability. Offshore wind farms in Sweden, the UK, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have used an ABB HVAC cable solutions.

In the future offshore wind farms will be sited further and further away from the coast requiring export cable lengths to the coast of over 100 miles. These wind farms will be able to use the ABB HVDC Light system which will be preferred, providing reduced losses incurred connecting to the grid.

The German BorWin 1 project already in operation as also the DolWin 1 and DolWin 2 offshore wind projects have selected the HVDC cables provided by ABB. Other examples of recent support activities from the Rotterdam office are related to the projects: EWIP, DolWin 1, DolWin 2, Troll, and Nordbalt.

Cable repair

Having manufactured, planned and laid a cable is not the end to the package of grid solutions provided by ABB. Submarine cables can get damaged. Damage caused by fishing equipment and anchors being dragged for example can break the connection between the wind farm and the on shore grid. In such a situation an offshore wind farm can be reduced to being just a collection of isolated, highly technical scrap. The operator of the wind farm needs an instant solution to be able to return to providing electricity to the customer.

ABB has the answer to this problem. Vessels specifically designed to be able to respond to repair cable damage, including cables manufactured by other companies, are on stand by. In the last years ABB has done many repairs on cables and gained a lot of experience. With their expertise ABB can locate the damage or fault, cut and cap, and provide turn key repairs to cable problems, quickly and efficiently, worldwide. This requires a vast amount of cable spare parts and equipment. Materials that have been used in the past but have now been replaced by more advanced materials are stored by ABB to be able to match as near as possible to the original specification of the damaged cable. Preventive and planned maintenance to cables can insure that the cable remains in service and the regular inspection of cables is another part of the ABB end to end cable solution.

The Rotterdam Offshore Engineering Centre and the Karlskrona manufacturing, repair and maintenance facility, have 2 dedicated cable vessels at their disposal, the Lewek Connector, 20190t with a 9000t cable capacity, and the Topaz Installer, 5000t. Together they make an important part in the offshore wind industry providing cable solutions for offshore wind farms and grid connections and uniquely offer a full package to cable users.

Dick Hill