A special report by the IMarEST, in association with Fugro, highlights where the challenges and opportunities lie for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) in the Offshore Renewables Sector.
The energy transition is underway, and the role of offshore renewables is hugely critical to a sustainable future. As we move away from climate-changing energy derived from fossil fuels towards offshore wind, tidal, and wave, and face into an autonomous future, the question is – what issues need addressed to get ready for it?
That is the premise behind a special report. Published by the IMarEST with Fugro, it assessed the attitudes of 400 global engineers towards operations and maintenance in the offshore renewables energy sector, addressing the big issues around skills, technology, data, health, safety, and the environment.
Decade of new technologies
We’re already seeing a growth in the use of technologies which the pandemic has accelerated. Drones have become invaluable during the pandemic to carry out remote surveys and inspections at a time of restricted travel. They are cost-effective and safer, as divers are no longer needed.
Modelling tools and the introduction of automated component prognosis could help reduce the frequency and costs of O&M inspections – and drive-up sustainability ratings, noted the report.
A resounding 88% said automation and remote monitoring tools will significantly impact their organisation, while 76% agreed predictive maintenance is an effective tool to reduce O&M costs - but its potential is not yet being realised. 60% said remote operations will significantly improve health and safety and reduce risks, while almost half cited cost reduction through semi-automatic processes.
Automated cloud processing, machine learning and AI are, the report states, “the technologies that show the most promise over the next 10 years”.
Future skills: Gaps emerging
New technologies and automated processes are transforming the sector in an astonishing way, but this requires a significant change in people’s skillset. “Data and coding skills are becoming increasingly important [requiring] a multi-skilled approach with a good understanding of operations and maintenance.”
The report highlighted there is already a skills gap and without investment there is a real risk of a shortage of qualified people. Transferable skills from the mature offshore sector need to be capitalised on. But, for example, almost a quarter of respondents (24%) don't believe the human-machine interface is prepared for remote tools.
Health and safety – overlooked?
More autonomous processes should mean reduced risk, but the report states “there is a fear that this is being overlooked”. While the industry is believed to be “fairly prepared”, some respondents took the view that “there’s still a lot of work to be done” and highlighted that health and safety needs to be embedded in the development of new roles.
Data driven approach
Improved analysis and data sharing is vital for such a technology-based sector but some (just 4.6%) are yet to be convinced, preferring reactive maintenance over predictive modelling. On a positive note, 56% expect to use a combination of risk-based and predictive modelling in 3-5 years.
Respondents highlighted the main benefits as the improved flow of data and information between different parties and project stages; informing predictive maintenance strategies; cost-reduction of physical inspections; and the integration of weather forecasting and metocean data to optimise O&M planning.
77% believe that onsite metocean sensors should be fixed during installation of power production infrastructure. “Real-time operational data will dramatically increase the insights available in support of the O&M teams that need to make well-informed, data driven, condition-based O&M decisions.”
Alice Goward Brown, Renewable Energy Consultant, Wood and Co-Chair of the IMarEST ORSIG (Offshore Renewables Special Interest Group), took part in the accompanying webinar presented by an expert panel from Fugro and the IMarEST Offshore Renewables SIG in June.
She praised the focus on digital skills for those at the very early point in their careers but emphasised that the current workforce needs those skills too – now.
“We need skills transfer. It has never been more important to learn throughout your career. It cannot just be about strategy and digitalisation targets. It needs to be about people.”
Download the report
You can download a free copy of the report by filling in the form here.
Watch the webinar here.
Find out more about the work of the Offshore Renewables Special Interest Group.