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The wind farm life cycle & different levels of activity in the market

Twenty-five years ago the world's first offshore wind farm was built. It happened in Denmark and was called Vindeby. It was thought ludicrous by the electricity industry. That attitude has changed a bit now.

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This week the US Government outlined a strategy to tap into wind power, planning to generate 86,000 megawatts of electricity by 2050. That’s enough to power 23m homes. In the last three years Europe more than doubled its capacity after installing more than 10,000 megawatts’ wort of offshore wind farm power. In August high winds boosted renewable energy output to provide 106% of Scotland’s electricity needs for a day. The UK’s robust support for offshore wind has seen it become the world’s biggest single market with 5.1GW of operational capacity. Hornsea Project Two – in conjuction with the Danish developer Dong promising to invest £6bn in the UK and create more than 2,500 jobs.

These high levels of offshore wind activity are – let’s be frank – great for freelancers. But where to start? Wind farms offer multiple opportunities for survey companies and workers so a closer look is merited.

Right at the start surveys are required from the moment a wind farm lease has been obtained from the Crown Estate. Before consent is granted you need to appraise the area in which it will be installed, looking at boat or aerial based bird and marine mammals, benthic grabs and fish surveys. Data on other factors such as wind speeds, tides and waves must also be collected.

The next step is construction and this is when activity ramps up significantly. From the odd boat or buoy collecting data, it expands to up to 50 boats working at any one time on the site. These include Substation Installation Vessels – like the Siem Aimery we looked at last week. They are heavy lift crane vessels to transport and lift substations onto the foundations. Of course, you don’t get a foundation installed without a Foundation Installation vessel. A wind farm would be as useful as a chocolate teapot without its turbines so they come on – you got it – a turbine installation vehicle. These take the turbines from the quay to the foundations, and once the tower is installed, the nacelle and blades go up. These can be up to 75m long.

Another issue we looked at recently was the increasing amount of work available in the field of underwater cable laying. This is something that happens here too, sometimes using barges but more often now purpose built positioning vessels.

Finally you have sea-based support, crew vessels, RCV handling and dive support among others.

For some, what’s gone before is old hat and want to work on futuristic developments. There are some exciting developments in the form of floating wind farms, with a race currently ongoing between Japan and a handful of European countries. Japan has already developed a ‘demonstration project‘ – a 2-megawatt turbine, 7-megawatt, substation and 5-megawatt model which was towed off the coast of Fukushima, north of Tokyo in July. This is the largest floating project of its kind at the moment and is an experiment – to see if it can become commercially viable.

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Investment in this new mode is still a fraction of what has been pumped into traditional wind farms – $490m compared to $113.4bn, and according to Bloomberg, it is likely to remain a bit player based on investment projections. Nonetheless two similar projects are underway off the coast of Norway and Portugal and others are planned including in France and Scotland’s 30-megawatt Hywind project.

So rather than being concerned that there is more work in something you’re less familiar with, remember what the US tech investor Jeff Bezos said: “What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you – what used to be a tail wind is now a head wind – you have to lean into that and figure out what to do because complaining isn’t a strategy.