Standards face a sprint to keep up with the pace of the offshore wind evolution

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 28 Mar 2019

The staggering pace of growth in offshore wind was the focal point of an international address at Grimsby Renewables Partnership’s latest gathering.

Sam Hall, construction project manager on Coastal Virginia offshore wind farm, spoke about standards in the sector, having recently moved from delivering Westermost Rough and Race Bank, to become a leading figure on the US project.

The Orsted employee is due to move out across the pond this autumn.

MORE: Orsted UK managing director's praise for Humber offshore wind cluster

Mr Hall said: “It is incredible how fast the industry has grown over the past 20 years. We have had wind power for a couple of hundred years. We have been using it to grind flour for a long time, but using it for power, not flour, is quite new and using it for power, not flour, offshore is even newer.”

The first farm, Vindeby - established in the early Nineties - provided power for 2,000 homes, after a “ludicrous idea to put them offshore” came to fruition. Grimsby’s next, Hornsea One, will power one million. “It isn’t so ludicrous today it seems,” Mr Hall reflected on early criticism.

“It was clearly expensive, not least because you are putting turbines in the sea. No one wanted to pay 15p on top of their electricity bill with standards and scale these things are now cost competitive with the next best thing on the market. That has taken away the main argument for not doing this.”

Reflecting on the standardisation of the sector, he said: “There were standards for onshore and oil and gas, a lot were applicable and it was possible to migrate across, but they were paving the way for an entire new industry.

“Standards are written and developed, but as soon as they are produced, approved and put in to effect, there is a new type of technology. There are a whole set of standards around gear box technology, but on Hornsea they don’t have gearboxes. Direct drive is quite reliable and ‘keep it simple, stupid’ is quite a strong engineering principle.”

MORE: New video documents Grimsby's offshore wind-powered transformation

On the growth, which with the Sector Deal will continue at pace, Mr Hall said: “The UK has been a leader, and this area has been a massive part of it, but the Chinese market nudged us into second place last year. There was a total of 51GW installed in 2018, the industry that took a crazy leap offshore in 1991 is now massive. Keeping pace had been a challenge, but we have brought it out of the ludicrous. Slowly but surely we have been taking risks, making projects, learning about what we did wrong and making it better next time.

“Now turbines are getting to the point where they are quite reliable - the average availability is around 98 per cent on Race Bank. We have minimised operations and maintenance regimes, made them more reactionary to the weather.” Highlighting some industry failings on the learning curve, he added: “Blades are not falling off and gearboxes are not setting on fire - we can send people out because we know they are safe by design.”

ISO 'a great thing for good staff'

Grant Hamilton, group facilitator at The Construction Network, updated on the work of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

“There is a fear-factor about ISO,” he told the meeting at The Ashbourne Hotel. “It points the finger at people who are not doing what you want them to do. It is a great thing for good staff, as they probably already get really frustrated with other staff. Once clear processes are in place everyone steps up to it and morale really lifts in the work place.

“Some think it is hard, it is not all about processes, but leadership too. If the person a the top of the organisation won’t adhere, no-one else will.

Humber Renewables Awards 2019

“In the old days it was about processes, now it is about leadership. What are the business goals and how do they work? ISO helps you to do all that. It is s much more usable standard than it was. “If you bid for any government contract they will ask what quality standards you have. Having it is key to helping your business grow. It will change your workforce, it will make them better and make you a better company, but you may have some challenges on the way.

“You can change the people, or you can change the people.”

Grimsby Renewables Partnership next meets on Thursday, March 28, at Whitgift School. Register here

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