Oil & Gas versus Wind: Fabricom Offshore Services

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With four decades of experience, and providing a wide portfolio of Operations & Maintenance services in the oil & gas industry, Fabricom Offshore Services B.V. is still a relative newcomer to offshore wind. But it has been taken by hand by sister company Cofely Fabricom – which pioneered the Offshore High Voltage Substation (OHVS) – and has adapted very quickly.

The company, which is part of the Benelux Division of GDF SUEZ Energy Services, now provides a range of services from supply and installation of technical support, maintenance and project management, through to offshore operations and maintenance support works.

OHVS Pioneer

In 2009, Cofely Fabricom developed the concept of the OHVS to provide a single cable link between groups of offshore wind turbines and onshore equipment for the Belwind project in Belgium.

Since then it has designed, built and installed the two substations for the London Array, the largest wind farm in the world, and it is currently supplying OHVS modules to wind farms off the coast of Germany, the Netherlands and others around the UK, frequently with the additional responsibility for the design and supply of the foundation structure and production and installation of topsides and transition pieces. In the oil, gas and power sector Cofely Fabricom has a complete portfolio of services, from front-end engineering to préfabrication of large, complex modules, as well as maintenance and facility management for both offshore and onshore installations.

Offshore WIND interviews Cofely Fabricom family member, Fabricom Offshore Services, the Operations, Maintenance and Services contractor of offshore wind farms in Europe for OHVSs, Wind Turbine Generators and Balance of Plant.

Employing some 300 technicians, this company, based in the Netherlands, has the ambitious goal to become a leading Operations, Maintenance and Services contractor in the renewables sector.

Remko Put, Project Manager Offshore Wind Fabricom Offshore Services, comments: “Working in the oil & gas sector for many years as a service provider we knew we had the skill base to perform certain offshore wind activities, right from the OHVS, system installation, cable termination, through to O&M for the entire lifecycle of the wind park.”

OW16_dubbel.jpg 74 1Proven track record

Fabricom Offshore Services has a proven track record of managing complex multidisciplinary projects in an offshore environment and this multidisciplinary know-how, experience and expertise in modular construction plus a ‘spirit of innovation’ enabled us to spearhead many developments for offshore wind farms, he says.

Sjef Jongmans, Marketing & Communications Manager Fabricom Offshore Services says: “Oil & gas was already a major market decades ago but offshore wind is still in development and growing very fast. We have moved on from what we were building three years ago, there is already a higher voltage output.

Oil & gas is perhaps ‘more mature’ and therefore innovative in the details, while offshore wind is evolving quickly on a larger scale.”

There are some distinct differences however between the sectors, he stresses. “Oil & gas has worldwide safety and quality standards, while offshore wind is trying to adopt its own standards and is still looking at what is best for the industry.” 

For Fabricom Offshore Services this also means a slightly different role. “In oil & gas most issues and standards are defined already but in offshore wind we are often being asked to advise more. For instance, we are asked, How are you managing logistical issues? What does this mean for our availability? We are not asked these questions in oil & gas.”

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When it comes to Fabricom Offshore Services’ core activities – Operations, Maintenance and Services – standards are still being developed. Mr Put explains: “Authorities haven’t yet decided about the frequency of inspections for instance – they are different between countries and companies – so often wind farm operators have to interpret the requirements. The approach to maintenance is also very different between companies and as wind farms go further offshore, there is no ‘best solution’ for logistics. There are many different opinions. However, although there is not really a standard yet, this is evolving.”

Mr Jongmans emphasises: “Offshore wind projects were developed only 10 years ago while the oil & gas industry has a much longer history and therefore has a proven track record but, besides turbines, there is still a lack of statistical information in the offshore wind industry. Essentially any maintenance philosophy is based on a theoretical approach. The history of wind farms hasn’t been able to gather enough life cycle data yet.”

Extending lifetime beyond expectations

He gives the example as to how the original prognosis for the oil & gas industry was vastly different from the first thoughts about how it would proceed. “Platforms that were built in the mid 70s were still producing 25 to 35 years on following maintenance plans but originally this wasn’t expected to be their lifetime. Practice can differ from theory. It is feasible that we can sustain and maintain OHVSs and in turn, turbines, longer than the original prognosis.”

OW16_dubbel.jpg 74 4They stress that this lack of historical knowledge also has an impact on cost analysis. The whole sector is working to lower the cost of wind power and they recognise that maintenance is a large part of the operational expenses.

Need for historical data

Mr Put says: “The industry needs an innovative O&M strategy. Currently there isn’t much of a track record but for sure, once there is we can influence ratios between preventive and corrective maintenance for example.

And if wind farm operators are willing to accept the O&M strategy over a period of time costs will go down.” Because the sector doesn’t have this historic information it is more of a challenge, he says. Once this is there, it will be easier to reduce costs and consequently get the overall costs of producing wind down.

In a bid to reduce costs, offshore wind could take a leaf out of the oil & gas book, they add. Within the oil & gas industry there is a well established cross-project logistic organisation and the offshore wind industry could benefit from similar cross-project logistics.

They point to the Southern North Sea Pool where supply vessels are pooled by the operators on the Dutch Shelf of the North Sea. Pools could be created for wind farms in the Irish Sea, Germany, Denmark, they argue.

Possibilities for pooling resources

For the established turbine manufacturers there are currently possibilities to utilise a fleet that is shared between multiple sites. With their volume it is possible to guarantee a certain availability, says Mr Put. There are opportunities for shared pools, i.e. for crane vessels or bunkering for helicopter fuels, he points out.

But they are pragmatic and realise it will take time, saying that as the industry evolves and as more data becomes available from offshore wind farm assets, it will become easier to define the O&M strategy and reduce costs.
Complete package

Currently, Fabricom Offshore Services is working on substations in Belgium and in the Netherlands, carrying out O&M and cable termination projects. In the future, the company would like to extend its O&M services and play a greater role in the installation process. “We are able to offer the complete package, including the cables, OHVS and O&M.”

“Offshore wind power has become a major source of electrical power generation in Europe and this is a field where the company holds a strategic position. We believe that our multidisciplinary knowhow, combined with the expertise gained in our offshore services and maintenance offering for the oil & gas markets, and our competencies in the area of electrical power make for a potent set of strong suits that enables us to develop solutions for the offshore wind industry to maximise energy production and decrease lifecycle costs.”

Helen Hill