O&M opinions and insights for the offshore wind industry

Carbon Trust: Seven challenges facing offshore wind

The Carbon Trust helps businesses, governments and the public sector with efforts to move to a sustainable, low carbon economy through carbon reduction, energy-saving strategies and commercialising low carbon technologies. The Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) is Carbon Trust’s flagship collaborative R&D programme. It is a joint industry project, involving nine offshore wind developers which aims to reduce the cost of offshore wind through innovation. O&M activities are relevant to several of the OWA’s research areas, including cable installation, access systems and foundations.

I recently spoke to Megan Smith, Associate in Innovation at the Carbon Trust, to ask her what she sees as the main challenges facing offshore wind operations and maintenance. Megan joined the Carbon Trust’s Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) in 2013. She manages research projects in a range of areas including optimisation of electrical systems, O&M strategy, and floating LiDAR validation and demonstration.

Here’s what we discussed:

Weather downtime

Minimising the impact of weather on O&M planning is key to reducing downtimes. Megan believes that one way of addressing this is through improving turbine access.
She explained that in 2010 the Carbon Trust undertook “an access innovation competition which aimed to increase the operational range of vessels from 1.5mHs to up to 3mHs, roughly equivalent to increasing the availability of the access systems substantially.”
The access systems supported by the OWA fall into three main categories: vessels, transfer systems and mothership solutions. Find out more about specific innovators supported by the Carbon Trust.

Importance of O&M modelling

O&M strategies will vary according to site conditions (e.g., port based versus mother ship). This means that correctly modelling vessel performance is critical to optimising OPEX. Presently, OWA is working on a project to incorporate numerical modelling, tank testing and sea trial data into O&M models to allow developers to select the right fleet for their sites.
Megan says, “We believe that as more vessels and transfer systems are tested and performance data shared developers will be able to make better decisions and further reduce their operating costs.”

Supply chain constraints

Megan says, “Although the risk is low, if a large critical asset failed, this could cause significant downtime before a new piece of kit is procured and delivered.”

Vessel availability

Referring specifically to jack-up vessels, Megan says, “Because certain O&M tasks can only be undertaken by certain vessels, this can cause a bottleneck for unplanned O&M. This is further exaggerated by the fact that it can take some time to mobilise vessels, and sometimes repairs are further constrained by crew availability.
One of the projects the OWA has recently launched is looking into the possibility of vessel sharing and vessel clubs in order to address this challenge.”

Evolving wind farm projects

Bigger turbines, larger distances from shore, and the potential for new transmission technology to create new challenges in the market are some of the issues facing the industry. “This includes aspects such as new technology, which means less direct experience in the market,” says Megan.
“This is why the OWA are engaging with emerging technology to ensure winder understanding of the technology and that lessons learned are shared where possible to reduce the new technology risk.”

Lack of understanding of component reliability

Megan explained that understanding the reasons behind faults is key to effective and efficient O&M planning and strategy. Increased data sharing could mean that developers pooling failure data and lessons learned could pave the way for a better understanding of faults. This could have a positive impact on reducing downtime associated with faults.


When discussing regulation, Megan made a number of interesting points:

  • Flag-state acceptance should be sought to extend the definition of ‘safe haven’ to include motherships. This is currently a specific limitation in the UK for vessels of less than 25m that must operate within 60 nautical miles from harbour. Ideally, this definition would be extended to allow daughter craft to operate within 60 nautical miles of motherships.
  • There is currently no harmonised international specific code or regulation in operation for wind farm service vessels.
  • Service vessel codes should be harmonised – to make sure that the regulations are suited to offshore wind farm O&M. For example, create a definition of ‘worker technicians’ so that they are not classed as ‘passengers’.
  • Statutory requirements for regular inspections should be harmonised, for example in the case of lifting gear and fall arrests.
  • Audit standards for offshore wind service vessels need to be developed, and standards for qualification and training for offshore wind service vessels should be harmonised so that they are acceptable to all flag states.
  • The industry needs to implement common standards for transfer systems and launch and recovery systems – for design, construction, and operations and maintenance.


Do you agree with these challenges? What else do you think the industry needs to address?