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Sluggish Offshore Wind Digitalization Will Stunt Growth If Industry Does Not Embrace Opportunity -- ONYX Insight

20 Jun 2022

Owners and operators of offshore wind projects need to rapidly accelerate their adoption of digitalisation in a bid to head off the impact of soaring costs and supply chain challenges.

That is the view of ONYX Insight, a leading provider of data analytics and engineering expertise to the global wind industry.

Despite the first offshore wind turbine being installed more than 30 years ago, and there being over 55GW of offshore wind capacity worldwide, currently just under 30% of UK offshore wind farms are implementing linked-up digital tools across their operation beyond relatively basic condition monitoring.

Turbine manufacturers face unrelenting pressure to deliver against full order books while keeping prices low. They are responding to this challenge by rapidly developing newer, larger turbines with greater power density and more complicated designs. 

The speed of turbine technology development means that banks and investors do not typically finance the same turbine model twice, resulting in a limited track record and potentially greater risk exposure for offshore asset owners. At the same time, asset owners are under increasing pressure to make projects profitable in a competitive auctions environment. Digitalisation holds the key to de-risking new turbine technologies, keeping O&M costs low and unlocking new efficiencies in offshore wind.

For offshore in particular, there are huge savings to be made in optimising marine logistics. Crew hire, offshore cranes, and jack-up vessels, for example, all come at high costs. By using digitalisation, owners and operators can rationalise vessel trips and even construct collaborative maintenance zones, where wind farms in close proximity synchronise O&M needs, sharing the cost burden.

Digitalisation can enable the introduction of condition-based maintenance, targeting minor repairs – which are typically overlooked, but account for approximately half of scheduled O&M costs and have significant potential for optimisation. Additionally, by implementing coherent digital strategies as early as possible, operators can support  life-extension strategies from day one, ensuring that the offshore turbines of today keep performing optimally well into 2050.

"This is an exciting but challenging time for the offshore wind industry," explains Evgenia Golysheva, Vice President of Strategy and Operations at ONYX Insight. "Huge demand for projects and a continual drive to lower the levelised cost of energy is squeezing turbine manufacturers, who are reporting enormous losses, limiting their ability to scale up and innovate.

"For offshore wind owners and operators, larger turbines are driving down LCOE, and therefore masking existing inefficiencies in offshore O&M. Larger projects, complicated ownership structures and an increasingly competitive environment mean that currently adopted tools and approaches will be difficult to scale. Asset owners seeking to deliver the very best returns on their projects need to look at potential of digital tools to reduce OPEX as early as the project planning stage, designing their operational processes and supporting digital systems at the same time and not implementing sometimes random and often duplicated selections of tools as an afterthought. 

"Installing digital tools that monitor performance, predict and detect faults and control maintenance implementation – in drivetrain, blades, structures and beyond – can maximise power output and reduce OPEX, helping to drive down LCoE in a long-term sustainable way."

Advanced analytics can also help to refine operations and maintenance, helping to drive down costs that may be impacted by over-stretched supply of parts or personnel.

"Given the precariousness of the macroeconomic situation, coupled with rocketing project demand all over the world, and the effect that this combination is having on supply chains, digitalisation presents offshore wind operators and owners with a chance to empower their operations and increase efficiencies, independent of other industry stakeholders.

"It is high-time that the roll out of digitalisation in offshore assets and fleets is expedited to drive wind's role in the energy transition."

ONYX Insight |