Comment: Why operations and maintenance will determine the future of floating wind

Wouter Maas, strategy director offshore wind O&M at Fugro, explains why operations and maintenance will play a crucial role in the future of floating wind as a sustainable energy source

Over the next few years, we’re likely to see large floating wind projects built and operated on an immense scale. In fact, according to RenewableUK, the total worldwide pipeline of floating wind projects has doubled in the last year alone and now totals 180 GW.

Floating wind is an exciting prospect because it opens up new areas for energy production, which typically have a higher offshore wind resource. This leads to higher capacity factors and a more constant production profile, which is needed for our baseload energy demand. It could be one of the biggest innovations to accelerate the global transition to renewable energy.

However, floating projects are still in pilot stage, and many developers are currently making big decisions around which design concepts to adopt with regards to floaters, anchors, and moorings. Each will have different implications on the preferred operations & maintenance (O&M) concept to be selected – whether that’s a floating-to-floating, tow-to-port, tow-to-shore or a self-hoisting crane concept.

Why operations and maintenance matters

Early indications are that the operations and maintenance costs associated with floating wind projects could be up to five times higher than fixed sites. Indeed, floating wind projects are harder-to-access, and conditions further offshore are significantly more turbulent than fixed sites, which means turbines are subject to more fatigue, wear, and tear.

Structures will be constantly moving which means that workers will have a tough time getting to the site, and an even tougher time on the platform fixing any issues which have been identified. The result of this is that wind farm operators will need to factor in weather downtime, longer transits, and more training to ensure worker safety.

Higher operations and maintenance costs would impact the overall Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) of floating wind sites. LCOE is the ratio between total discounted lifetime cost and total discounted lifetime production, and it’s the holy grail in the offshore industry. Before making any significant investments, wind farm developers will want to be reassured that the benefits of floating wind will not be outweighed by high operations and maintenance costs over the asset lifetime.

The role of offshore monitoring

Remote monitoring has huge potential to make floating wind sites more affordable. By monitoring turbines remotely with a set of specific sensors, an operator can identify issues such as fatigue, corrosion, and scour early – without offshore workers having to visit the site. Floating wind sites will, of course, be harder to access, so it will be even more important to reduce the frequency of subsea inspections.

Remote monitoring will also help asset managers to get early warnings of any issues, which will be critical when wind turbines are further offshore. Not only will it take offshore workers longer to reach sites, but conditions will be more treacherous, so operators will need to plan their visits around seasons and weather conditions. Monitoring will undoubtedly play a crucial role in seeking out the right opportunity to visit sites and complete the necessary maintenance.

For developers currently planning floating sites, whatever concept they are looking at, now is the time to consider how they could use automated and digitised data delivery to provide early indications of fatigue or failure and enhance asset performance. This data-driven approach will help them to make more informed decisions, improve safety, and reduce the overall LCOE.

The deciding factor

There’s huge potential for floating wind as a sustainable energy source. However, for projects to be a genuinely feasible alternative to fixed sites (and fossil fuels), long-term operations and maintenance requirements should be carefully considered.

Developers that are currently weighing up different floating wind concepts cannot afford for this to be an afterthought. Operations and maintenance must be a crucial factor in the planning and design of future sites to make the cost of renewable energy more affordable than ever before.

Wouter Maas, strategy director offshore wind O&M, Fugro