I don’t think anyone is under the impression that the construction of a nationally significant infrastructure project is an easy ride. Least of all when it involves being 20 miles out at sea. Even those unfamiliar with offshore wind farm construction would be able to list a number of likely challenges that must be overcome to enable the construction of 90 wind turbines and 2 offshore substation platforms in the North Sea. Likely suggestions would perhaps include challenges such as technical feasibility and solutions suitable for the harsh offshore environment including high wind speeds and significant waves, or the remoteness from everyday infrastructure such as internet or emergency services, or even just practical aspects of how the electricity produced by the wind turbines travels from out at sea all the way to our plug sockets.
Before the wind farm construction even starts, as a project team we have overcome challenges such as obtaining development consents, undertaking Environmental Impact Assessments, meeting milestones for financial close, determining the optimum technical solutions for our site conditions, wind speeds, consents, budget, and ironing out fabrication and manufacturing issues.
The UK offshore wind industry has continued to innovate, develop, become more cost effective and expand in both size and generation capacity in recent years. As too has the experience, talent and dedication of an ever-growing workforce. This workforce has been the driving force behind keeping offshore wind farm construction progressing and succeeding, especially over the last 12 months.
I am currently the Transport and Installation Engineer for the Triton Knoll offshore wind farm, and when I officially stepped into the role in January 2020, the foundation installation campaign had just commenced. My role is to provide and coordinate engineering and technical support for the transport and installation of wind farm components such as wind turbines, foundations and offshore substations. Triton Knoll is an 857MW offshore wind farm under construction by RWE Renewables, 20 miles off the Lincolnshire coast. It includes 90 Vestas v164-9.5 MW wind turbines, two offshore substations and the longest onshore cable route of any offshore wind farm in Europe. Once operational, Triton Knoll will be one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world! Each wind turbine has an 187m tip height including 80m blades , all installed from a jack-up vessel, onto the foundation platform that has been piled around 25m into the seabed.
The first few months of 2020 were hit by some of the highest winds and frequent storms that the industry had seen for some time – which whilst ultimately great for wind energy generation is not always ideal for construction. Although weather impacts are expected, planned for and allowances are made in project programmes, the actual weather began to hinder progress and stress the programme expectations.
Little did we know what was coming next as the global coronavirus pandemic started to rear its head in March 2020. Lots of dedication and work from all across the project, company and the industry as a whole has led to some changes to how the project operated, especially offshore. The ultimate aim was, and still is, to keep people safe and COVID-19 away from vessels and sites to keep them operational where possible.
COVID testing, remote working, and hotel quarantines became, and have remained, integral to keeping the project moving safely forwards during the last year of construction. But throughout the pandemic, the more usual project challenges like technical, health and safety issues and weather delays have never been far from the project team’s focus, with the team working hard to minimise and manage the impacts. Safety initiatives, additional vessels and contingency planning have all contributed to overcoming the challenges of the last 18months.
The pandemic has also provided opportunity for new innovative measures like provisions for remote surveys of vessels, changes to work patterns and reducing unnecessary travel and subsequently the environmental impact of our work. Whilst operating under the restrictions imposed due to the constraints of the pandemic, it has sparked new ways of operating and accelerated changes and innovations that may not have been otherwise actioned.
For Triton Knoll, we are in the midst of wind turbine installation and pushing into the statistically more settled spring and summer weather. Plus, with the pandemic seemingly starting to settle and stabilise, the successful completion of the wind turbine installation campaign is on the horizon. First generation was achieved on 1st March 2021, this gave us a taste for future achievements as we continue to bring more wind turbines online over the coming months. Hopefully, the Triton Knoll team will be able to gather together for the first time in well over a year to celebrate the project’s achievements – despite challenges – and look forward to future successful projects as-well!
Written by Emma Gerrard, Transport and Installation Engineer, RWE Renewables