What can floating wind learn from subsea industry?
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Alan Mortimer
Director of Innovation, Clean Energy
Colin McKinnon
Technical Director, Specialist Engineering and Consultancy

Floating wind technology looks to be a game-changer for the industry. This is partially driven by emerging government policy, such as the UK’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which sets out a pathway to net-zero with goals of 1 Gigawatt (GW) of floating wind capacity by 2030. While this offers the opportunity to produce renewable power from large areas of the oceans that are too deep for fixed structures, this energy alternative does come with its own challenges, many of which are familiar to Wood’s experts who encountered similar challenges in the early years of the subsea industry.

The good news is that many of the technical skills and solutions developed for subsea are directly transferable to floating wind. As organisations look to diversify into this sector, Wood’s expertise in building and operating offshore floating facilities in harsh environments has enabled us to translate total expenditure cost saving lessons to advise clients on developing economically savvy, safe and reliable floating wind farms.

What are some key subsea takeaways that will help floating wind clients?

Dynamic modelling 

As demand grows for floating wind, wind turbines and floating foundations will increase in size. This will require challenging and complex integration between system components. Accurate modelling will play a critical role in the design and optimisation of the turbine control systems and individual components, as the overall system gets larger and as we move further offshore to deeper and more severe weather conditions.

A key lesson learned from the subsea sector is the need to utilise tools which simulate the behaviours of floating systems, risers and moorings to improve the prediction accuracy of the aerodynamic, structural and hydrodynamic modelling. To address this challenge for subsea, Wood created Flexcom, a market-leading offshore marine engineering simulator which has now been developed to support floating wind assets. The next generation of this software, Flexcom Wind, quickly creates detailed floating wind asset models, allowing greater time and focus on the engineering design.

Moving the power

Floating wind developers also face the challenge of transporting the produced energy back to shore. This requires extensive, highly reliable subsea power cables. Over the years, we have seen failures in submarine power cables leading to high repair cost which resulted in difficulty securing insurance due to the cables being a single point of failure. The root cause of many of these failures can be linked to the lack of a global standard and the competitive tendering process triggering pressure to reduce costs during the design, manufacture and installation.

It is vital to understand the limitations of submarine cables and the implications for the design and safe installation of offshore wind facilities. Current practices, such as measuring the cables mechanical parameters, conducting testing to identify failure modes, and recommend standardised safety philosophies for installation and operation, must be considered to reduce the risk of a failure.

Back in the 1980s, when designing subsea flexible risers, the industry had no defined technical standards. However, these standards are now being tackled by Joint Industry Projects (JIPs) and technical working groups to discover the common reasons for cable failures and root cause analysis.

Working together

Finally, with competitive tendering for Government Contract for Difference, adopting a collaborative mindset can be difficult, but is essential for the success of floating wind as an alternative source of energy.  As highlighted with cables, subsea developers have found that utilising collaborative bodies like the DNV pipeline committee and JIPs, are the best way to innovate, reduce costs, solve complex problems and create a safer, more sustainable industry.

Technology developers will also need to work closely with detailed engineering and turbine companies to scale up their prototype concepts to support the new 15 Megawatts (MW) turbines.  So too will fabrication companies, who will need to develop the automated processes needed to produce 100 plus units efficiently.  The engineers, technology developers and installers will all need to work together to create specialist vessels and modify the designs to make them easier to install and repair. This approach helped deliver a profitable subsea sector and the same can be true for a successful floating wind industry.

Looking ahead

The challenges facing floating wind are not new – this up-and-coming industry can be just as effective as the subsea sector. By harnessing transferable skills and experience from working in subsea environments, the cost of floating wind energy can be levelized towards that of fixed wind whilst maintaining high levels of reliability and safety. Adopting the collaborative and innovative mindset which has positively served the subsea industry will be key to ensuring the future success of floating wind and the energy transition.

Originally published in the Global Underwater Hub Magazine.

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