The UK’s Round 3 projects are shaping up to be a crucial battleground for turbine manufacturers and other key suppliers. But behind the big equipment deals there is a parallel universe of services, which keep the turbines turning and ensure that revenue from energy generation continues rolling in.
Siemens’ Service Renewables (SSR) is the operations and maintenance (O&M) arm of Siemens Energy, with its Service Wind Power subdivision already responsible for more than 11,000MW. This represents 70% of installed Siemens turbines. About 1,700MW of those under service are offshore.
Siemens has emerged as the leading supplier in Europe's offshore wind market, with its 3.6MW turbine widely known as the industry's "workhorse". Its new 6MW machine looks set to be as successful, with Europe's largest offshore wind developer, Dong, having recently announced a framework agreement that will allow it to purchase 300 units for its projects in UK waters.
SSR currently employs about 2,500 people across onshore and offshore wind farms, and aims to double that number by 2020. Chief executive, Tim Holt, wants the service regime for offshore wind to not simply keep turbines running but to become fully adapted to marine conditions. He has undertaken a full-blown review of how things could be done differently.
New marine challenges
"Traditionally, we’d have two or three people working on a turbine for two or three days," he tells Windpower Offshore. "But in offshore we need to have as many people as we can and condense their work down to the shortest possible time". With offshore turbines being bigger and significantly harder to reach than their onshore equivalents, Holt is acutely aware of the need to keep them running as much of the time as possible.
In conversation, one of SSR's offshore wind clients said it would ideally visit the turbines no more than twice a year. "That was a good source of inspiration," says Holt. "What does it take to respond to that? Now is the time to look at it and to try to turn that vision into reality."
There are several ways to reduce turbine downtime and to optimise visits offshore, and Holt is open to all of them. With most Round 3 projects located significantly farther offshore than today’s wind farms, wave heights can have a huge impact on access. Do you arrange daily visits by a crew transfer vessel or less frequent visits on a larger vessel that can accommodate more than 30 technicians working on-site for several days?
To make service campaigns more efficient, technicians’ work patterns could be modified so that their pay remains constant throughout the year but work takes place mostly during favourable weather windows. "It’s like a puzzle where you need to orchestrate the logistics set-up to deal with the complexity," says Holt. "If we can do that, it will really help in three-four years’ time, when we come to Round 3."
As a fast-developing industry, offshore wind power is still on a steep learning curve. "This is an industry with immense potential for significant improvement," says Holt. His ambition is the development of innovative solutions through an all-comprehensive and creative approach to delivering services.
While turbine availability and yield remain the key performance indicators for offshore wind service providers, SSR runs regular workshops with clients to assess their needs and identify ideal solutions. "Most customers have some idea of what they want to do. We use a matrix to work out what might work best, monetise it and help customers choose the right option," explains Holt.
Speed of response and efficient operations are essential, and with this in mind Holt has equipped all Siemens wind farm technicians with Apple iPads. Already fully operational in the US, where Apple endorsed Siemens' approach as a shining example of iPad use in a corporate environment, the scheme is being rolled out in the UK by the end of the year.
"We started talking about IT and mobile solutions at management level in late 2010, when the new structure [of creating a separate energy services division] first emerged," says Holt. It quickly became clear that Apple’s iPad was a winner from the perspective of ease of use and workers’ buy-in.
What Holt calls "the young face of the industry" was captured by a tool that allows staff to consult instruction manuals and troubleshoot quickly, deal with admin tasks while en route to wind farms as well as communicate with colleagues and create a community of people that shares ideas and experiences. The iPad is now being integrated into the company’s SAP system, ensuring continuity and coherence across the organisation.
SSR technicians are encouraged to submit suggestions for new apps and to participate in discussion boards. "This project is driven by the real needs of the business instead of a remote IT department," says Holt. A high-growth industry like offshore wind must adapt to the needs of the people it employs and encourage them to embrace their work environment, he adds. "The UK Round 3 is pushing boundaries. That’s what we are doing too: questioning the way things are done and trying to do them better."