Offshore wind development is booming

Offshore windfarm
Mikko Nikkanen
Head of Maritime, Weather and Environment
Weather & Environment

How to secure more reliable weather window estimates for efficient and safe offshore wind farm installations?

Offshore wind development is booming.

U.S. President Joe Biden seeks to double offshore production in the next decade, and Japan plans to be carbon-neutral by 2050 — requiring an enormous increase in nearshore wind energy production.

Nations around the globe are following suit. Europe installed 14.7 GW (10.5 GW in the EU-27) of new wind capacity in 2020 and will install around 105 GW of new wind energy capacity over the next five years. Germany, France, and Spain will lead that charge.

As the industry moves farther out to sea, the development of offshore wind farms faces several operational challenges that go well beyond wind resource assessment. And as more offshore projects get going, a surprise challenge is affecting everyone: safely loading the turbine parts to vessel, transporting those at sea, and finally, installing those at the offshore locations and maintaining those.

Today, specialized ships called Wind Turbine Installation Vessels (WTIVs) are the only things that can do the work for the largest turbines, and there are just over 30 of them in the world. This has created a looming global shortage. Plus, not even half of the existing WTIV's can handle the larger, next-generation turbines that are coming online now. This same trend also affects the port storage and loading capacity, which continue to receive pressure.

This is both an opportunity and a problem for shipbuilders and ports, which are delighted to see a surge in demand but wary about over investing in projects that aren’t fully permitted yet.

But even if there is a ship available to do the job, another challenge rears its head: The wind itself.

Remote wind intelligence for any vessel

The same abundant wind that a wind turbine is meant to capture can cause significant delays and safety risks during loading and installation, especially with next-generation blades stretching to more than 100 meters in length. Companies are discovering that the more turbines grow, the more they need reliable wind data at the installation site to keep lifting operations safe and efficient. This is difficult when ships and equipment are strewn all around the ocean, far from conventional weather station networks and outside the reach of land-based weather radars.

The cost of renting a WTIV can range from €150 000 to €250 000 per day — and building a new vessel for this application comes with an enormous price tag of up to €420 million. Because of huge investment cost, it is critical to know the wind, waves and other meteorological conditions at any given moment to determine whether it’s safe to have a crane lifting tall turbine components, crew installing blades to nacelle or a helicopter transporting maintenance crews to the wind park.

Fortunately, several sensing technologies are significantly advancing shipborne wind and weather awareness to minimize damage and downtime.

Wind lidar: Most importantly, WindCube Offshore wind lidar units are easily mountable, ruggedized and marinized for just these situations. They provide real-time wind measurements to detect hazardous wind gusts that can impact offshore lifting operations up to 200m in height.

Thunderstorm awareness: Vaisala’s lightning network (GLD360) coverage is global and Vaisala Thunderstorm Manager software enables users to see approaching and departing thunderstorms and lightning in any offshore park operation in the world. Alerts can be set to enable quick decision-making of when to start or stop operations at offshore construction sites.

Helideck/transportation safety: Helideck Monitoring System incorporates Automatic Weather Station, related weather sensors, data storage and reporting software for comprehensive situational awareness that can avoid delays and risks as well as ensure effective planning and safe landing on WTIVs.

Scanning wind lidar: These devices build up situational wind awareness and increase safety. Scanning wind lidar can be utilized to cover the component dispatching area at ports or place it onto the offshore substation where it can scan approaching winds remotely up to 10km distance.

It’s not just installs

Installation is not the only phase where these needs come up. Turbine equipment breaks, blades wear over time and become inefficient, and regular maintenance must happen.

Fortunately, changing locations and reinstalling the wind lidar is not necessary. The sensors can be permanently installed on the vessels — and work everywhere the ship is heading to operate. They can also contribute to robust seasonal data that helps us understand distant offshore regions for which there isn’t currently any useful wind data available. Finally, in the possible decommissioning phase, safety needs to be secured in the same way as the construction phase since winds will remain even if the turbine leaves.

As always, Vaisala is tracking these developments and doing our best to help everyone — from port authorities and terminal operators to shipbuilders, park developers and operators — make offshore wind energy live up to its potential. Nations are counting on it.

See also our article on the topic of how advanced weather sensing assists wind farm development vessels published on June 2021 in Sea Technology.

Learn more about our weather technologies that help to optimize offshore wind farm construction and maintenance operations in our upcoming webinar.

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