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Vessels and access systems: Supporting a new generation of technology to transport wind farm technicians safely

In 10 years, the Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) has run over 150 projects supporting innovations that have led to both a significant reduction in the cost of energy and risk, whilst making offshore operations safer. To mark this milestone in R&D collaboration, we have selected 10 high impact innovations to showcase the breadth and depth of the programme.

Umoe Mandal’s WaveCraft pushing against a wind turbine

A key driver of offshore wind cost reduction over the last decade has been due to the industry turning its attention towards specific challenges in the construction and operation of offshore wind assets.

Vessels and access systems are an important part of this challenge. Over the last ten years, the vessels which operators use to transport offshore wind technicians to and from each turbine have evolved to become ever more tailored to the task. The OWA has played a significant role in this story.

Ten years ago, we set the industry a challenge to come up with new technology and innovations in order to meet the future demands of developers. In particular, the challenge was to come up with vessels and access systems that could operate in rougher weather and further offshore. Whereas the earliest windfarms were often about 10 to 15 nautical miles offshore, the newer sites are located up to 50 to 60 nautical miles from shore. The vessels used by the industry to reach earlier windfarms were simply unable to reach these far offshore sites. Without the development of better vessels, the industry would not be able to maintain today’s wind farms.

We launched our Vessel and Access Competition in 2010 to address this challenge. A year later we selected 13 winners, and further along during the programme we eventually supported 15 projects in total.

Without the development of better vessels, the industry would not be able to maintain today’s wind farms.

Umoe Mandal’s WaveCraft was one of the vessels supported by the OWA, and unlike the vessels used previously offshore, it uses an air cushion which makes for a much smoother ride. That in turn enables it to travel roughly twice as fast as a conventional vessel, and in rougher conditions with support from the OWA. The WaveCraft, was taken through the development process, from the initial design phase, to the build, trials, and deployment. Two WaveCraft vessels are now fully commercial and in operation. Another commercial success is WindServer which uses an innovative hull shape to ensure a smoother motion on the water and better transfer capability to the turbines. There are now six WindServer vessels in commercial operation. This was directly enabled by the OWA’s support.

The Tube Docking Device, or TDD, is an example of an access system which the OWA has supported. The TDD uses a gripper system to increase friction and hence improve the access from the vessel to the wind turbine.

By launching these competitions, providing the incentives, putting ideas in front of developers, and organising demonstrations of the resulting technology, the OWA is supporting the development and commercialisation of new technology and solutions to meet the industry-wide challenges.

As the industry evolves we continue to look for new technologies and ideas to support the future of the industry and ensure technicians arrive safely to work and fit for work.


This article is part of 10 years, 10 innovations: A summary of the impact of the Offshore Wind Accelerator

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