Onus on suppliers to raise their game

WORLDWIDE: It is easy to get carried away by the size and scale of some of the offshore wind projects currently under development, and the new generation of supersize turbines that will provide the power.

However, the future for offshore wind depends in large measure on the ability of vessel designers, builders and operators to provide the technology and equipment to install and maintain these machines.

Progress is certainly being made. Developers who once chartered vessels converted from use in the oil and gas industries can now draw on an increasing number of vessels purpose-built for the offshore wind sector, from self-propelled jack-up rigs and remotely operated cable trenchers, to luxurious accommodation vessels and fast crew transfer catamarans.

Additionally, access from vessel to turbine has been made much easier and safer through the development of motion-compensated gangways.

But concerns remain that offshore wind planners are running ahead of the vessel suppliers' capacity to deliver. This looks particularly true for vessels capable of transporting and installing the latest supersize monopile foundations designed for far-shore, deep water projects.

Safety and skills

Another issue on the offshore horizon is safety. The industry is responding to pressure to cut costs and speed installation but knows it must not do so at the expense of health and safety or quality standards.

The UK government's Marine Accident Investigation Branch has reported a growing number of incidents involving vessels serving offshore wind. That, of course, is partly a function of there being many more such vessels than in the past, operating in conditions euphemistically described as "challenging". But shipping lanes from ports to wind projects will only get busier as the pace of construction speeds.

The appropriate training and monitoring of crews working in the sector must be taken as seriously as the vessels themselves.

Shaun Campbell is features editor of Windpower Monthly

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