3sun: Offshore Wind Presents Powerful Opportunities, Gusty Challenges

As an alternative to fossil fuels, wind power is plentiful, renewable, clean and produces no greenhouse gas emissions during operation. The effects on the environment are generally less problematic than those from other power sources.

3sun Offshore Wind Presents Powerful Opportunities, Gusty Challenges In 2010, wind energy production was more than 2.5 percent of total worldwide electricity usage, and growing rapidly at more than 25 percent per annum.

At the end of 2012 there were more than 225,000 wind turbines operating across 80 countries.

As technology progresses, turbines are becoming bigger and more efficient, with the same amount of energy generated from fewer machines. Offshore wind is less turbulent and stronger than on land, and offshore wind farms have less visual, noise and shadow flicker impact, but construction and maintenance costs are considerably higher.

3sun Group, based in Great Yarmouth, England, realizes the potential of the offshore wind turbine industry as part of its service offering to the energy sector. The Group's team of highly skilled engineers and technicians work with the leading energy operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to address the challenges that affect the offshore wind sector. The Group has experienced significant business growth since it was established in 2007, growing from one person to now employing more than 300 people, including more than 160 wind turbine technicians on and offshore. It is on track to deliver revenue in excess of £30 million this year.

Partnering With Siemens

Despite its roots in oil and gas, 3sun Group has been involved in the offshore wind industry since its infancy. Through acquisition of its subsidiary company Dawson Energy, the U.K.'s only home-grown wind turbine installation company, the firm cemented close relations with Siemens (Munich, Germany) in the onshore wind market. When Siemens established itself as the market leader in offshore turbine supply, the Group moved with it to provide key installation and service expertise, which has seen it work on construction of projects like Burbo Bank, Liverpool Bay, Greater Gabbard off the Suffolk coast and more recently the London Array, the world's largest offshore wind farm with 175 turbines, each rated at 3.6 megawatts, spread over an area of 90 square kilometers.

The SWT-3.6-107 wind turbine is one of the largest models in the Siemens Wind Power product portfolio and specifically designed for offshore applications. The London Array has a total capacity of 630 megawatts and supplies the U.K.'s national grid with enough electricity to power half a million homes.

Following the successful installation of hundreds of its 3.6-megawatt turbines, the Group expects to support Siemens to build the first commercial 6.0-megawatt farm this summer at Westermost Rough. Located off the East England coast, the wind farm will be constructed of 35 turbines for a 210-megawatt capacity, providing carbon dioxide-free electricity for around 200,000 homes. Siemens installed a test turbine in West Kilbride, Scotland, in preparation for the commercial deployment of the new model. The turbine has a 154-meter rotor, designed specifically for the Siemens 6.0-megawatt machine.

It has a swept area of 18,600 square meters and is currently the world's longest blade in operation. It maximizes energy yield at offshore locations, from inland waters with moderate wind resources to the most exposed offshore sites.

Cost Challenge

One of the biggest challenges faced by the fledgling industry is that offshore wind has one of the highest costs of any energy-generating technology currently available. As outlined in the Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Task Force report, published in July 2011, the U.K. government made it clear that the cost of electricity from offshore wind would have to fall significantly to meet the objectives of 18 gigawatts of capacity, with the target cost of £100 per megawatthour of energy by 2020.

Increasing the size of offshore turbines is key to driving down this levelized cost of energy (LCOE) and to make offshore wind commercially viable. This manifests in a rush for manufacturers to launch ever larger turbines, resulting in often incomplete or untested configurations that have to be proven or retrofitted on site. The response of the supply chain is key to provide the logistic and engineering support to allow this development. This is most apparent in installation vessels, with the fleets struggling to keep up with the requirement for ever larger jack-up vessels and crane capabilities to cope with the design aspiration of the nextgeneration turbines. In accommodating the storage and installation of the new models with existing fleets, operator skill is key to load the vessels, plan the lifting operations and manage the construction, often at the edge of crane limits and vessel dimensions. 3sun Group has been fortunate to develop and retain some of the most experienced construction managers in the industry, and even they are tested daily with the demands of the project builds.

3sun Group has established itself as a consultancy for other less experienced companies in this sector. Areva (Paris, France) is installing two projects off the German coast with its 5-megawatt turbine, and 3sun Group has been able to support its rapid education into the requirements of offshore installation by providing its most experienced construction managers to coordinate the installation work, acting as client representatives and quality advisers to assure the standard of the completed installation.

This year, 3sun Group will support Vestas's (Aarhus, Denmark) return to the offshore wind market with its installation of the 73-turbine Humber Gateway wind farm off the coast of East Riding in Yorkshire. The team will be responsible for the electrical and mechanical completion of its 3-megawatt machines, an expertise for which Dawson Energy has been renowned for the past 14 years.

3sun Group has also completed work on the operational Greater Gabbard wind farm, where its engineers identified failings in the design of a transitional piece for loading a vessel. 3sun Group engineers implemented an A-frame design for the transitional piece, which meant that production did not need to be stopped during the installation.

The team also identified other modifications to the Greater Gabbard site, which included maintenance on jacket points and welding. Its proactive approach reduced time and associated costs of service and inspection of the turbine to maintain statutory compliance; all aspects, which in their own small way, reduce the LCOE of offshore wind.

Offshore Safety

Safety and the creation of a safe working culture are considerable challenges in the harsh offshore environment, adding to the wind industry challenges of working at height and with electricity, and the industry still has a lot to learn. The offshore oil and gas industry has faced these challenges for more than 40 years and as a result has developed safe systems and methods of work, ensuring they are constantly reviewed and updated.

Personnel record systems, such as Vantage, offer the oil and gas industry a comprehensive system to track training, working hours and competence; however, the offshore wind industry has yet to offer this level of capability. From its roots in the oil and gas industry, 3sun Group is able to fill in the gaps with its process and safety-led rigor to support its customers and provide technician teams with the thorough training and mindset required for this dynamic and risky environment.

Statutory compliance standards control both the construction and operation of wind farms and set inspection and performance requirements for all activities involving lifting operations, pressurized equipment, safety equipment and machinery. The requirement to inspect and maintain such a panoply of equipment, to varying legislation and throughout the life of the wind farm, adds cost and complexity to the undertaking, where a dozen different inspectors may be needed to visit every offshore turbine to certify it operable.

Flere again, 3sun Group has developed a comprehensive capability, with inspectors trained in all turbine equipment and skilled in rope access and confined space work, to review all LOLER, PSSR, DNV and PUWER standards. The teams track certification and repair work on the 3sun Certification Management System (CMS) database to provide clients an instantaneous view of their turbine status at the click of a mouse.

Training

The growth in the offshore wind industry will require a ready supply of certified engineers and technicians to install and operate the turbines, and, as with many areas of the industry, establishing an accepted training standard is a challenge. The Global Wind Organisation (GWO) is an association of wind farm owners and turbine manufacturers who have come together in the pursuit of an injury-free work environment in the wind industry. GWO has developed a basic training standard, which covers first aid, manual handling, fire awareness, working at height and sea survival.

The standard has been developed in response to the demand for recognizable Basic Safety Training (BST) in the industry and is based on risk assessments and incident statistics from the industry relating to the installation, service and maintenance of wind turbine generators. Every member of staff must have these skills prior to arriving on a site. 3sun Group has its own training division, The Academy, to offer a variety of training packages suitable for the industry.

As the specialist training arm of 3sun Group, the division delivers technical and vocational training to the energy and engineering construction industries. Its tutors and lecturers are qualified practitioners in their areas of expertise with many years of experience in the design and delivery of training under their belts.

The 3sun Group Academy's variety of training packages ranges from one-day courses on a diverse range of topics to the EClTB-accredited Client Contractor National Safety Group "passport" that represents a nationwide health and safety standard for site contractors. The Academy works with clients to identify skills deficits and provide relevant training to address them. With training hubs across the U.K. and Europe, courses can be offered at specialist 3sun Group facilities or at client premises, tapping into the experience and expertise of the wider Group, which can add depth and flexibility to training capabilities.

Maintenance

A longer-term consideration for the industry is the growth in the long-term maintenance market for wind farms. Newly installed offshore wind farms normally have a five-year manufacturer's warranty covered through a service contract. During this period the OEM supplies spare parts, consumables and is responsible for any repairs required. After the warranty expires, the wind farm operator is free to select a different service contractor and to source consumables and spare parts for repairs from the open market.

Wind farm developers are keen to take control of their equipment to reduce the cost of servicing across the 20-year life of their farms. They are looking for a closely coordinated campaign where maintenance is performed during the low-wind summer periods and outages are meticulously planned, as well as being responsive to weather and operational opportunities, to ensure the least disruption to the farm output. The market has never yet experienced this demand, and few firms beyond the OEMs can offer complete maintenance capability.

3sun Group is in discussion with a number of wind farm operators, whose farms are coming out of warranty, to take on scopes in the maintenance of the operational wind farms to keep the blades turning and the lights on.

Conclusion

The potential of renewable energy from offshore wind is enormous. The European Commission anticipated, in its 2008 Communication on offshore wind energy (EC, 2008): "Offshore wind can and must make a substantial contribution to meeting the EU's energy policy objectives through a very significant increase-in the order of 30-40 times by 2020 and 100 times by 2030-in installed capacity compared to today."

The offshore wind sector brings considerable economic opportunities not seen for many years to create a sustainable and competitive industry, employing thousands of people in its construction and operation over decades to come. It will provide a significant proportion of electricity usage from clean, green sources and contribute enormously to a sustainable future. 3sun Group is excited about the future and proud to deliver a fully integrated service, from the planning phase through to installation and maintenance, to this growing industry.

Andrew Elmes joined 3sun Croup as renewables director in November 2013, with 20 years of energy and project management experience. After an initial career as an engineering officer in the British Army, Elmes established the U.K. project organization for Siemens Energy Renewables. He recently worked as a bid management consultant with an Australian infrastructure company and completed an MBA.

Press release, September 02, 2014; Image: 3sun
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