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COMMENT: underwater inspection – out of sight, but not out of mind

Wed 27 Sep 2017

COMMENT: underwater inspection – out of sight, but not out of mind
Zoe Barnes: “offshore wind is different from oil and gas and industry-specific challenges require cost-effective, bespoke solutions and equipment”

As Zoe Barnes*, a partner at Everoze explains, bespoke concepts and industry-specific techniques will be required to keep offshore wind’s underwater infrastructure in good shape.

Offshore wind turbines are beautiful things, pieces of superb industrial design, awesome in their scale and productivity. But dip beneath the surface of the water and you find a mass of hardworking, mundane but essential infrastructure – foundations, piles, J-tubes and cables – struggling to survive in a harsh environment.

Foundation structures, for example, are subject to intense dynamic loading, surrounded by what is essentially acidic, oxygenated, organic soup. Add in exposure to waves, currents and seabed scour, and poor visibility underwater, and the operations and maintenance picture looks quite challenging. Trying to prevent corrosion is an ongoing struggle, and there is the added problem of cracks potentially growing in primary non-redundant structures.

All this highlights the importance of being able to regularly inspect subsea assets on an offshore windfarm reliably and cost-effectively.

The UK has had a world-leading offshore oil and gas industry for several decades, and has successfully designed, built and operated subsea structures in harsh environments. Sophisticated bespoke equipment including remotely operated vehicles, diving systems and a range of sensors has been developed for remote monitoring and maintenance.

This being the case, it might appear that there is no need for new, bespoke technology to service the offshore wind market – it should be a simple question of technology transfer shouldn’t it?

In practice, however, the offshore wind industry grew out of shallow water, nearshore/coastal marine civil engineering practice, not the offshore oil and gas industry, and the structural designs that emerged are somewhat different from oil and gas structures, have different technical drivers, and their maintenance has a very different cost base.

This has led to some unique industry-specific challenges for offshore wind, for which new cost-effective, bespoke techniques and equipment are needed.

Everoze’s technology team recently began working with the Carbon Trust’s Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) programme to investigate the bottlenecks and challenges associated with subsea inspection.

An extensive industry stakeholder consultation exercise identified the current state-of-the-art offshore wind subsea inspection technology and practice, and identified two main challenge areas: grout integrity inspection and weld flaw detection, both for monopile and jacket structures.

This work has led to a new global subsea inspection competition initiated by the OWA to identify and support innovative concepts which could be developed or adapted to address the most significant challenges for subsea inspection of offshore windfarms. 

The competition closes on 13 October 2017 and is open to any global technology developers who can meet the challenges identified in the competition brief.

For more information and terms and conditions please follow this link.

The winning concepts will have access to mentoring support from nine leading offshore windfarm owners, the opportunity to demonstrate their technology at an operational offshore windfarm in Europe, and further publicity support.


*Zoe Barnes has more than 12 years of experience in the renewables industry, initially in wind R&D and latterly in consultancy. She has led a wide range of strategic engagements for industry participants, drawing on her knowledge of turbine technology, technology commercialisation and the offshore wind industry. 

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