Winds of change

Posted on 13 Sep 2023 by The Manufacturer

Maintenance organisations in the offshore wind sector are increasingly depending on quick access to bespoke equipment from distribution partners to drive efficiencies and achieve sustainable success

Wind turbines have become a common sight along the coastlines of many countries worldwide. These elegant structures are highly visual illustrations of the transition towards more sustainable energy sources. They will continue to be an essential tool in the ongoing fight against climate change.

Indeed, offshore wind energy capacity worldwide has risen steadily in recent years and now stands at around 63,200 megawatts. In 2021 alone, more than 21,000 megawatts of offshore wind power were newly installed and connected to the grid. Increasingly, scale is everything – with wind farms getting bigger and turbines becoming ever more powerful. In the UK, for example, the Hornsea Two development – situated around 90 kilometres off the Yorkshire coast in the North Sea – spans an area of 462 km2, with 165 turbines providing power to 1.4 million homes.

Advances in maintenance activities

So, offshore wind is growing fast. However, its ongoing success as a sector will be dependent on the reliable performance of gigantic assets over the long term. By their very nature, offshore wind turbines are exposed to extreme weather conditions, saltwater exposure and corrosive marine atmospheres. They are often located in remote regions far from shore, making them hard to reach. Weather and sea conditions can limit access to offshore turbines, and once onboard, maintenance teams have to navigate the dangers of working at height. In short, offshore wind is a challenging environment that requires innovative maintenance strategies.

What does that look like at a practical level? Increasingly, maintenance operators are deploying sophisticated condition-based monitoring and predictive maintenance strategies based on sensors and data acquisition that allow them to spot potential mechanical or electrical problems before failure occurs. Also, advanced robots are being used to assist technicians in inspecting and repairing turbine blades without the need for rope access. These bug-like devices with suction cups on their feet can crawl along the length of a turbine blade, navigating the varying curvature of surfaces, to record and transmit condition data to technicians in real time.

The need for bespoke solutions

These are fantastic examples of innovations that keep turbines spinning and improve the cost-effectiveness of offshore wind maintenance. But frequently, there is no substitute for ‘boots on the ground’. Maintenance teams are still required to board vessels and travel to wind farms to perform various activities. These might include gearbox and drivetrain repairs, electrical system tests, foundation and structural inspections, lubrication and fluid replacements and general cleaning.

Factors such as limited accessibility, unpredictable weather and potential production and revenue loss mean time is of the essence. These highly-trained maintenance operatives, therefore, need to work as part of efficient teams, maintaining a balance between swift repairs, safety, quality, and compliance. To do so, they must be equipped with the right tools and equipment to perform the tasks at hand.

This is why maintenance organisations in the offshore wind sector are increasingly looking to form solid relationships with distribution partners who can offer carefully curated product ranges, speedy service, and new product innovations to make it easier for them to streamline their activities and become more profitable. The right partnerships can mean quick and trouble-free access to essential equipment such as oil analysis and calibration units, bespoke toolkits and high-quality PPE. Any supply chain shortages of necessary equipment can put the proverbial spanner in the works, causing maintenance operations to grind to a halt – with severe cost implications.

Consequently, RS has responded to the offshore wind sector’s specific needs by developing an expanded range of products and services, making it easier for operators and maintainers to get the equipment they need. These solutions – including hand tools such as wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, hammers, and measuring devices – are offered with a combination of global reach and local service. In the UK, for example, maintenance companies can source solutions online or from 16 branches strategically placed in critical hotspots such as Newcastle and Aberdeen. As a global distributor with enormous buying power, RS can offer the broadest range of equipment at competitive prices, delivered without delay.

Investing in people

The investment in the offshore wind sector can be seen in other ways. RS has also set up a specialised team exclusively serving the wind industry. This dedicated resource brings deep expertise and industry knowledge, enabling RS to understand and address the specific challenges offshore wind projects face.

The team, which includes business analysts and field sales representatives, is tasked with building long-term relationships in the offshore wind sector. That could mean arranging framework agreements with leading maintenance organisations, making the most of economies of scale, and providing more streamlined and timely access to the needed equipment. The team will also perform horizon-scanning duties to take stock of the rapid pace of technological change in the maintenance landscape to ensure that the latest strategies are supported with the right products in the portfolio.

Relationships are also being fostered at higher levels. RS is working with the Offshore Wind Growth Partnership (OWGP) to achieve its environmental, social and governance ambitions. The OWGP WEST programme is a business transformation scheme established and funded by the UK Government. It is part of ORE Catapult, the UK’s leading innovation centre for offshore renewable energy. It promotes closer collaboration across the supply chain, having introduced various programmes that drive shared growth opportunities in the sector. RS has also joined Renewable UK, the country’s leading not-for-profit renewable energy trade association, and is keen to build on links with other European countries.

Meanwhile, RS also recognised the power of face-to-face networking in the close-knit offshore wind industry – which is as much about people and trusted business relationships as technology. RS regularly participates at major conferences and events and will attend Floating Offshore Wind in October in Aberdeen, Scotland, and Offshore Wind North East in Sunderland, England, in November.

RS’ wind team representatives also recently travelled to the United States to assess offshore developments in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Recent research by the University of California, Berkeley, shows that the US has one of the world’s best offshore wind potentials, enough to power up to 25 per cent of America’s total power needs in 2050. RS is keen to share knowledge and experience across nations and regions and believes collaboration is critical to future offshore successes.

Fanning the winds of change

These activities align with group-wide Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments at RS. The company is committed to advancing sustainability through more renewable energy products and service solutions for customers and suppliers. It is also partnering with education providers, building skills and fostering innovative solutions that improve lives with a target to work with 1.5 million young engineers and innovators – many of whom will fill the talent pipeline in the future.

Ultimately, the offshore wind sector is at an inflexion point. It is growing rapidly in size and scale while adopting new maintenance techniques that improve quality and reliability and drive down costs. RS recognises the need for strategic partners to help drive this momentum forward and is investing in people, products and processes to support future growth.

About the author

Veronica Maxted, Director of Renewables at RS GroupVeronica Maxted, Director of Renewables at RS Group

With nearly two decades of diverse experience and a strong educational background, Veronica Maxted brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table as a sales leader. Her career has been defined by innovation, strategic thinking and unwavering integrity, all of which have consistently driven remarkable results and enduring success.

Her current position as the Director of Renewables at RS Group carries special importance, given the evolving landscape of the offshore wind sector. In an industry poised for growth and transformation, her experience and strategic perspective play a vital role as RS strives to achieve ambitious goals in advancing renewable energy solutions. Outside of her professional pursuits, Veronica also nurtures a keen interest in exploring diverse cultures through travel and has a long-standing interest in aviation, with 27 hours of flight training under her belt.

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