A combination of environmental pressure to restrict and eliminate the use of fossil fuels, coupled with rising costs due to geopolitical factors, are leading countries worldwide to look at ways to diversify their energy mixes with a greater proportion of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) Global Wind Report 2021 highlights the rapid growth of the offshore wind market, which grew by almost 22 percent a year between 2010 and 2020, with an expected additional 235GW of new capacity projected by 2030.
To achieve this, offshore assets will need to be deployed more quickly and in greater numbers. There is also a desire to place turbines further out to sea to take advantage of more consistent wind conditions, requiring new approaches to automated inspection and maintenance to avoid engineers undertaking long journeys to potentially hazardous locations.
Optimizing performance through remote operation
Offshore wind power is part of a wider mix of technologies that are providing an increasingly viable alternative to conventional energy sources. Developments in hydrogen generation and distribution, solar and onshore wind, as well as advanced battery technologies, are seeing a growing transition to new approaches for the generation, storage, and distribution of power. While this transition promises to transform the potential for cheaper, cleaner energy, it is also placing strain on the finite pool of global engineering resource that can deliver it.
Many contractors are struggling to build the required assets quickly enough due to the supply chain pressures facing the industry, including the rising cost of raw materials and the limited availability of key components caused by production shortages.
For companies across the power generation value chain, from operators through to suppliers including ABB, this has meant finding ways to optimize their existing resources by equipping them with tools that can help them to get more out of their available engineering hours.
Remote operation is about understanding what is happening and then using the data to make decisions to improve performance. Key advances in smart digital technology are expanding the possibilities for remote and unmanned assets, both in terms of engineering and operational efficiency and by increasing speed and quality of information sharing, which enables better decision making and faster rollout of modifications.
The availability of practical data is important for safe functioning of remote assets, including condition monitoring, fault tracing, incident handling, cybersecurity patching and modifications, while increased autonomy afforded by digitalization further reduces need for manpower at the location of the assets.
Opening the door to collaboration
Offshore wind projects will typically have multiple parties involved throughout their lifetime, from bringing them online through to maintenance and servicing. As such, there is considerable merit in providing mechanisms for enhanced collaboration, especially when it comes to maximizing performance through remote operation and maintenance.
The growing convergence between information (IT) and operational (OT) technologies opens the door to previously unseen opportunities for collaboration, enabling integration and sharing of varied data from equipment, processes, plants and business systems between the parties involved in building, running and maintaining offshore wind assets.
Sharing information about operational status and asset performance, including comparison of performance between different wind assets and wind farms, also enables improved decision-making and information sharing both within the operating company and the wider vendor industry.
Addressing security concerns
Despite the exciting possibilities for enhanced maintenance and collaboration offered by remote operation and data sharing technologies, concerns remain around data and operational security, such as the potential for unauthorized tampering, appropriation of sensitive data and key performance indicators (KPIs), and the introduction of malware.
These concerns are being directly addressed by technology vendors, with suppliers such as ABB ensuring that their products and systems comply with the latest standards like IEC62443 and follow Industry 4.0 architectural designs to contain the site security and restrict remote access.
The value of remote operation in enhancing operational and maintenance performance is already widely proven in many industries. Appreciation of its value in offshore wind applications will almost certainly increase as key decision-makers become convinced of the benefits of the technology and the ability of continuing developments in cybersecurity technologies and standards to tackle and eliminate potential threats.