Long read

Looking ahead at the offshore wind operations and maintenance market

Fugro World images for Fugro.com


23 Feb 2023


Wouter Mass

The growing size of offshore wind turbines have caused the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of offshore wind to drop significantly in recent years. The next step change in reducing LCOE will come from data-driven decision making which can support all offshore activities needed to operate an offshore wind farm for its intended design life and beyond.

Challenging economic conditions will continue

Offshore wind farm owners continue to expect a high return on their investment, but this will become increasingly difficult to achieve. Development costs are rising because of supply chain pressures, the need to venture further offshore into deeper waters and harsher environments to find new wind farm locations. And there are no government subsidies in sight globally. It’s a perfect storm.

Timing of energy production will become more important

Most of Europe’s wind energy production is in the North Sea. It’s quite a narrow area. Excess supply pushes down energy prices and may even result in negative pricing. Over time, this can cause a big dent in operator profits. It seems counterintuitive, but on a very windy day it may actually be more cost-effective for operators to turn off the turbines. It eliminates the risk of negative pricing and reduces wear and tear.

Our team already helps many operators to address this issue and we expect demand for this advice and support to keep rising in 2023. We help clients predict their energy output at a certain moment in time and advise whether it’s more cost-effective for the turbines to be on or off.

Efforts to improve asset longevity will ramp up

Until recently, estimates for offshore asset lifetime have been calculated based on historical data. However, theoretical models are proving increasingly inaccurate because climate change is disrupting normal weather patterns and speeding up the deterioration of offshore assets.

Existing wind farm structures were designed to withstand up to 25 years of fatigue loading from winds, waves and currents. The industry will keep exploring how to extend asset longevity by a further 10 years, which would achieve a significant reduction in LCOE.

A 35-year operational lifespan is possible, but it will need an investment in high-quality, real-time asset monitoring, implemented from day one. The resultant data will enable any structural deterioration or movement to be identified promptly and will drive informed O&M decisions. Mitigating damage swiftly and effectively will prolong the lifetime of the asset.

Operators will pursue sustainable alternatives

Vessels used in offshore wind farms can remain in service for 20 years or more. They emit most of the carbon emissions, many of whom will be exploring new ways to make their day-to-day operations more sustainable.

We’re developing solutions to help our clients operate more sustainably. Offshore asset inspections are a good example: our uncrewed surface vessels use 95 % less fuel than traditional inspection vessels and are safer and cheaper to operate. We’re trialling methanol and hybrid conversions, to make our conventional fleet even less carbon intensive.

Subsea inspections are another example. We believe that by using the latest technologies as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the wind farm, we can eliminate the need for divers. This approach will improve safety and allow subsea structures to be monitored continuously, rather than on a ‘snapshot’ basis.

Remote operations will attract talent to the offshore industry

Offshore wind is upscaling, and the workforce needs to expand. With no end to the offshore skills shortage in sight, operators will need to find more efficient ways to maximise the contribution and expertise of their existing workforce.

We’ve set up a network of onshore remote operations centres around the world. They are staffed by highly qualified engineers who excel at remotely interpreting real-time data to make fast, informed recommendations.

This remote working approach centralises expertise. It also improves the work-life balance of team members because they no longer spend months at sea as part of their role. Our clients like it too, because they can access real-time information and expert support at any time of the day or night.

Data management is an increasing challenge

25 years ago, the data we collected fitted on just a couple of floppy disks. Whereas we currently collect terabytes of datasets now. Managing those datasets and using the insights across the different stakeholders and life cycle phases can be challenging. That is why we developed a digital delivery and engagement platform, VirGeo®, to make sure the right data is available at the right moment in time. We are determined to develop and deliver innovative solutions that meet the huge operational challenges faced by the offshore wind industry and are excited for what the year ahead brings in the O&M space.

Wouter Maas discussing the importance of offshore wind in the energy transition and his thoughts on what the future will bring

Did you know?

It' estimated that by 2030:

  • There will be 524 operational offshore wind farms

  • Offshore wind farms will use 80 000 km of cabling to transport the energy they generate – that’s nearly double the circumference of the Earth

About the author

Wouter Maas is Solution Director Offshore Wind O&M at Fugro

Site investigation (CPT and drilling) and monitoring
Performing CPT, drilling and monitoring of the Grimburgwal canal in Amsterdam

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