“Did you know that up to 30 percent of the cost of energy produced by offshore wind farms goes on operations and maintenance?”
Dr. Pinto repeats the figure to underline its significance.
“30 percent. Yes, almost a third of the levelized cost of energy (LCOE). So, if we could find a way to reduce that by a few percentage points, we can make a big difference. What’s more, if we can cut it in half, and I believe we can, then we can fundamentally transform the commercial attractiveness of offshore wind. Like that.”
What sounds like a snap of the fingers is lost over the online call , but Pinto’s point is not. He is arguing that commercial and environmental sustainability go hand-in-hand and that offshore wind, a blossoming sector (EU offshore wind energy capacity is planned to surge from around 12 GW today to 300 GW by 2050), needs to compete, and win, on LCOE to power a successful energy transition.
And the way to slash those operations and maintenance costs?
Let’s be clear: Pinto doesn’t envisage legions of Terminator-style creations swimming over to windfarms to perform essential maintenance. What he sees is the use of robotic-based solutions, such as, for example, drones to survey turbines for delamination or cracks (so engineers don’t have to climb them), and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), rather than divers, assessing cable integrity and substructures for corrosion.
It’s not about replacing humans, he stresses, but rather “removing them from the most dangerous tasks” and, in doing so, extending weather windows and operational uptime. This latter benefit is derived from the fact that roboticized maintenance would reduce the need to transfer crews from vessels to turbines; a challenging, and often impossible, task in rough seas.
“It’s safer and significantly more cost effective, a win-win,” Pinto comments. “We just have to prove it.”
And this brings us on to ATLANTIS.
ATLANTIS has been conceived to establish a unique pilot infrastructure, situated in Viana do Castelo, Portugal, to test breakthrough marine robotic technology.
It consists of a Coastal Testbed, allowing developers to “de-risk” robotic solutions through rigorous and cost-efficient testing near to land, and an Offshore Testbed, where more proven approaches can be put through their paces in a real windfarm environment (Windplus’ WindFloat Atlantic).
The project – which is funded by the EU’s largest research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020 – takes an inclusive “ecosystem” approach, inviting a broad range of participation and an open test and knowledge creation environment for the benefit of the entire industry.
“Collaboration is the heart of ATLANTIS,” Pinto explains. “We have to work together to enable a change of this scale; creating the solutions, informing the regulations, and gaining acceptance for a new way of working. It’s a tremendously exciting project and we want as many stakeholders as possible to participate.”
ABB has developed a dedicated mission planning solution for testing at ATLANTIS. Based on the ABB Ability™ Marine Advisory System – OCTOPUS, the solution enables operations to be planned using safety limits based on acceptable vessel responses, rather than solely on the wave conditions traditionally so decisive in conducting offshore operations and maintenance.
It is, Pinto says, an important part of understanding how robotic solutions can deliver added value and increase efficiency.
He explains: “OCTOPUS helps create precision in planning. Through data driven optimisation it allows for the optimal deployment of equipment, tools, crews and specific vessels in a coordinated way. It enables us to make the best decisions – the most efficient, safe and cost effective – based on given tasks, weather conditions and sea states. It brings together all these parameters and simplifies an otherwise very complex decision-making process, reducing operation and maintenance costs and therefore directly contributing to lower LCOE.”
In essence, he continues, it’s a way of synchronising operations and assets to create a sense of predictability in an increasingly challenging environment – as turbines, and distances from shore, grow ever larger.
“Downtime is expensive for the turbines, but also for these specialist vessels, equipment and the crews involved,” Pinto adds. “If we can find ways to reduce that we bring real benefits in terms of efficiency.”
Window of opportunity
The greater weather windows enabled by the robotic approach are key, especially when opened up to their full extent by OCTOPUS.
A recent ABB desk study, analysing data from the ATLANTIS offshore facility, found that the acceptable wave height for operations could be increased from 1.5 to 2 meters when robotic solutions were deployed instead of humans. This meant that safe vessel operations could take place 46 percent of the time, as opposed to the current 34 percent – in other words, increasing the operational weather window by an eye-catching 35 percent.
“This is hugely important for windfarm operators, vessel owners and charterers as they gain a new standard for acceptable conditions, leading to less cancellations of planned activity, less time on stand-by, less fuel consumption and, accordingly, less cost,” remarks Pinto. “This combination of smart decision support systems, together with safe, high-quality and efficient robotic operations and maintenance solutions opens up a new horizon of benefits. I believe that will be absolutely essential in supporting the future success of this dynamic industry.”
Empowering the future
Pinto regards the project as not just crucial for wind, but rather for the wider decarbonisation of society, with the EU, through its European Green Deal, setting the target of climate neutrality by 2050.
“There is a growing sense of urgency. Now is the time for action,” he states. “By creating an open, experimental infrastructure we can nurture innovation in a way that empowers multiple stakeholders – from suppliers, to digital experts, wind farm operators, academia, local governments, and more – and really boosts the feasibility and development of this hugely promising source of clean, renewable energy.”
And although the focus is robotics, Pinto says it’s the human factor that will dictate project success.
“The more interest we have from people, the more players getting involved, the better,” he concludes. “We can never achieve sustainability in isolation, so there’s a strong need to pull together to affect real change. Our future depends on it.”
ATLANTIS project – diving into the details
- Location: Viana do Castelo, Portugal
- Duration: 3 ½ years
- Start date: January 2020
- Budget: 8.5 million euros
- Aim: Establish pilot infrastructure to demonstrate added value of robotic solutions for offshore wind operations and maintenance, reducing LCOE
- Project lead: INESC TEC
- Partners: ABB, VTT, Space Applications, Principle Power, NEW (EDP and CTG), ECA Group, Universitat de Girona, IQUA Robotics, RINA
- Supported by: Horizon 2020 (EU)
- Results available through: CORDIS