Offshore wind: And another thing……


With all its faults, the European Parliament remains a great place for learning stuff.  Last night I heard a guy who has spent decades in the oil and gas businesses, including a long period in the North Sea.  And he made a point which had not really crossed my mind before.

He pointed out that the off-shore oil industry makes extensive use of helicopters to ferry personnel out to rigs.  Why use expensive helicopters?  Wouldn’t boats be cheaper?  Our speaker reminded us that even in benign conditions, there’s generally quite a swell in the North Sea.  The sheer physical problem of transferring people from a ship lurching up and down on the swell to a fixed oil platform is difficult and very dangerous.  That’s a key reason for preferring helicopters.

But off-shore wind turbines, of course, don’t have helipads.  And the cost of providing helipads for dozens or hundreds of turbines in an off-shore array would be prohibitive.  So maintenance engineers perforce go by boat – and face the dangers of the transfer.

But how much maintenance do these turbines need?  Answer: a lot. The Renewable Energy Foundation has done excellent work in highlighting the rapid decline in output over time from on-shore turbines, as wear and weather take their toll.  In the harsh and corrosive off-shore environment, operators find that maintenance requirements (and costs) frequently exceed their expectations.  On a large off-shore array, you can reckon that maintenance is a pretty continuous process.

What happens if an engineer is safely landed on an off-shore turbine, but the weather deteriorates as he’s working, so that he can’t be picked up?  Does he have shelter? A loo? Food, water, a bed?

Mercifully the level of fatalities in the UK industry has been low – though one life lost is too many.  The HSE report lists “slips and falls” as the primary cause of accidents.  There are quite separate concerns about fatalities amongst divers.  But with extravagant plans for further investment (or for “investment”, read “misallocation of resources”) in off-shore wind, I fear the numbers will rise.  All credit to the engineers (and divers) who risk their lives in the offshore industry.  They deserve every penny they earn.  But if we built more gas and less wind, lives would be saved (and the competitiveness of our economy protected).

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28 Responses to Offshore wind: And another thing……

  1. Ex-expat Colin says:

    Simply ask the Navy – mine countermeasures and trawlermen. Its wickedly dangerous.

    Mine countermeasures…launch/recovery of motorised detection device at sea was part of safety course (Det Norske Veritas) without killing/injuring crewmen. And loosing device/damaging ship.

    I had much experience with UAVs launched from ships…and that would not necessarily be done by Naval personnel. It was to be a mix of navy/civilian aboard warships. The risks are not unknown…just that they have a 1st class chance or realisation (catastrophe).

    A support ship heavily bumped a wind turbine base last year (Irish Sea) and thats by the experts?

    Putting those huge windmills out there when a tanker gets a loose.

    Its sheer lunacy unless you want some fish with your chips? The EU kept most of our fishermen safe in the end….oh dear!

    Yep… you either winch him down or land him. He just has phone a friend after that… in the worst case. And if he’s ill/injured and cannot be accessed? Insurance has a cost of life figure, and thats what it amounts to ultimately.

  2. STUART TODD says:

    As a retired Rotating Equipment Engineer who was once required to spend time offshore on the Ivory Coast I fully understand the issue about accessing the Wind Turbines. Access to the main rig was from the rear of a supply vessel using a ”Billy Pugh’ A conical shaped net that is fitted to a floatation collar! 4 people at a time would cling to the outside of this thing while a crane on the production platform would lift it a couple of hundred feet into the air. Access to the sattelite platforms where the oil and gas emerged from the sea was even more exciting (read dangerous) The supply vessel would reverse up to a ”Tarzan Rope” and you were required to swing accross to a ladder. Both the supply vessel and the platform would rise and fall in the swell. In the first instance the boat lurched as the Billy Pugh was being hoisted One man skidded across the deck and broke his shoulder. In the second case a guy walked involuntarily towards the rear of the boat as a huge swell hit it. He fell into the Sea and his body was never recovered!

  3. catalanbrian says:

    You really are grasping at straws in raising this issue, something of which you clearly know precious little. However I think that your joy in finding another thing to bash offshore renewables is unwarranted. I am advised by my son, an engineer involved in the installation of both onshore and offshore turbines, that these machines are very reliable and need relatively little maintenance. Furthermore any figures prepared by The Renewable Energy Foundation (a misnomer as they are anti renewable energy) are not to be trusted as they present the biased view of that organisation. The only practical evidence that I can offer is the 12 wind turbines adjacent to my farm, which you may argue are more reliable because they are onshore, not offshore. These were installed some four years ago and none have yet failed and I think that shows pretty good reliability. Your problem, Mr Helmer, is that you are only interested in documentation prepared by organisations that broadly agree with your own anti renewable viewpoint, and as your party’s energy spokesman, may I suggest, that is a a pretty poor show. I would add that your poor attempt to knock the offshore industry on the grounds of the safety of workers is astonishing, particularly as it comes from a man who extolls the virtues of coal!. Still, I expect I should not be surprised at this coming from a party that is as confused as UKIP?

    • Ex-expat Colin says:

      oh dear..ask your expert family member exactly what scheduled maintenance means, Don’t get too tricky with the unscheduled variety because that’s not supposed to happen?

    • Alan Thomson says:

      The REF is not ‘anti renewable energy’ so much as anti energy that does not deliver on either environmental, economic or reliability grounds…which does happen to include both offshore and onshore wind…which , as anyone without a vested interest will tell you, are both useless on every level.

    • ian wragg says:

      As someone who until August last year was directly involved in renewables and the company serviced offshore and onshore turbines, I think your son is misleading you.
      There have been many catastrophic gearbox failures both on and offshore. Several units have shed their blades and a handful have caught fire.
      At this time yesterday gridwatch showed wind supplying 0.385gw at peak load or 0.75%
      of demand.
      At least 8 times this month the total output has been less than 1gw at peak load.
      By the way have you read about the progress of the big German offshore installation which is way over budget, behind time and cannot be connected to the grid?

      • catalanbrian says:

        Yes of course there will be failures and accidents but this is the case with all methods of generating electricity (Fukushima to name but one very big one). And the big German offshore installation being way over budget and allegedly not able to be connected to the grid is a planning problem, not a problem specific to offshore wind. That is the problem with you anti renewable people you grab any small downside and use that in isolation to make your judgements.

      • Ex-expat Colin says:

        Fukushima…is about the stupid placement of Nuke plants in an active seismic region and additional criminal acts.The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission found the nuclear disaster was “manmade” and that its direct causes were all foreseeable.

        Germany suddenly cannot plan/complete big engineering projects. They have done in the past and I have seen a few. Suddenly not now and with all the relevant info available.

        If you think its wrong to pick up on this, I suggest you look at whats happening. A clue…sudden build of coal power stations in Germany.


      • catalanbrian says:

        So there is now “a sudden build of coal power stations in Germany” . I thought that you would be rejoicing at that or have your views on non renewables changed? My point really was that no generating system is risk or maintenance free, despite UKIP’s energy spokesman’s seeming belief otherwise. My main objection is to the unnecessary squandering of finite resources by burning fossil fuels to generate power which can be generated by other means, which also have the advantage of not increasing CO2 levels.

      • Ex-expat Colin says:

        It is a sudden build and due to dropping/delay to Nuke and troubled wind turbine projects. However, I’ll leave Mr Helmer to respond to you…if he wants?

        Whats “rejoicing” to do with this?

    • ogga1 says:

      Have you actually seen a supply boat from the deck of a rig, I have, and it is bloody frightening.

  4. catalanbrian says:

    Of course they need scheduled maintenance but the need for this is built in to the original plans and costings.

    • Hugh Davis says:

      Yes, a costing which puts the price of electricity from off-shore wind-turbines in the range £145 to £175 per MWh – about FOUR TIMES the current average strike price for electricity from the National grid!

      • catalanbrian says:

        So it’s OK to use up finite resources just because they are currently thought to be cheaper than renewables? Perhaps if fossil fuel subsidies that are currently hidden, unlike the subsidies to renewables, were removed the difference would not be so great. In any event we cannot keep on using the Earth’s fossil fuel resources at current rates without leaving our descendants with a major problem for which they will not thank us. Or presumable perhaps you don’t give a fig.

    • Ex-expat Colin says:

      done by remote control/robots is it?

  5. omanuel says:

    Thanks, Roger, to the willingness of you and others to challenge dogma, the AGW bandwagon momentum was too weak to ignore reports of altered temperature data.

    Data were altered to hide the solar force that produced, in solar cycle #24, the lowest number of sunspots recorded since 1750.

    (Sunspots appear when powerful, deep-seated magnetic fields from the Sun’s compact core emerge through the photosphere, as explained in this 2002 paper on “Super-fluidity in the solar interior: Implications for solar eruptions and climate”, Journal of Fusion Energy 21, 193-198 (2002)]: )

    The AGW fiasco thus confirmed the secret decision in 1945 to save the world from nuclear annihilation by forbidding public knowledge of the energy (E) stored as mass (m) in cores of:

    1. Heavy atoms like Uranium
    2. Some planets like Jupiter
    3. Ordinary stars like the Sun
    4. Galaxies like the Milky Way
    5. The expanding Universe

    The lingering question is just this: Can dogmatic skeptics and believers now work together to restore contact with reality and avoid the selfishness that threatens the survival and advancement of society?

  6. Jane Davies says:

    Sorry to go off topic Roger, but I have just seen this…..

  7. Tcheuchter says:

    A blog well worth following is that of The Filthy Engineer. A while ago he posted this:-

    The comments are well worth reading too.

    • Ex-expat Colin says:

      Thanks for that…its very interesting and shows how severe the risks are when working at sea. The task time scales for major and external work are very optimistic. Simply changing a part/unit is not it.

      The task might be simple, but the procedure to carry it out is fraught with potential problems. Just watch a low loader on land taking on heavy equipment for instance…thats dead simple ?

      Maintenance of the type being conducted on high rise platforms anywhere is dangerous. Just avoid it a sea…like the plague. The saying goes…something always goes wrong at sea! Yep, and its much magnified.

      What surprises me is that HSE are very aware and you could almost argue culpable. The systems safety case(s) have to comply with the law (safety). Not sure whether they have gained success with corporate manslaughter yet in UK. I think Canada has with high ranking Army officers. UK tends to back off on this anyway….mouth and trousers! And that one about no knickers.

      The safety cases in the case of this kind of equipment deployment I would think had to be reviewed by HSE before project execution. Its as scary as hell!

  8. martinbrumby says:

    The HSE report covers the period to March 2012. Around when the big increase in offshore wind started,
    Can you ask HSE for updated figures and to confirm that the figures are correctly recorded as incidents for the UK? Back in the days before the EU had stuffed the UK fishing industry, the accident rate for trawler-men was massively under reported by the official statistics. And we now have a situation where not only the BigWind companies have a blatant interest in minimising the figures, but Potato Ed Davey and DECC will also try to Snopaque over any embarrassing statistics.

  9. Ian Terry says:

    Very good entry Roger. I see some of your readers are getting off of their trollies but all these things have to be discussed and not put aside because the computer model states it will never happen. At the end of the day it is the consumer domestic and industrail that is taking the hit and it can only get worse. A few are making billions out of all of this and the fear factory is working overtime in churning out the save the world for my grandchildren. Funny that to me the far east ain’t doing a lot of listening and they will do nothing and enjoy the fools we have in government who want to save the world slowly but surely grinding us towards economical oblivion. I am confinced that it is all part of the bigger Agenda 21process

  10. Richard111 says:

    There is a picture out in the net that shows how off shore wind turbines interfere with air flow for down wind turbines. This interference reduces overall generating capacity.

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