GE Renewable Energy and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult are backing the development of a new technology which promises to reduce manual working at offshore wind farms, slashing one of the industry’s biggest maintenance costs by 80 per cent.
The technology concept, EchoBolt, is the brainchild of Peter Andrews, founder of the Stratford-based microbusiness Energy Integrity Services. Once fully developed, it will drastically reduce the cost of inspecting and retorquing wind turbine bolts – one of the biggest maintenance tasks that face wind farm operators. The cost saving for the European wind industry (offshore and onshore) will be an estimated £250 million per year.
The project, which is funded by Innovate UK, will develop the existing EchoBolt prototype for deployment and testing at ORE Catapult’s Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine and then on one of GE’s operational wind turbines.
The technology uses ultrasonics to test the tension on the bolts that hold wind turbine structures together. Each turbine has over 1,000 of these critical fasteners, which require regular, manual tests by offshore technicians using heavy-duty hydraulic wrenches. EchoBolt relies on a hand-held ultrasonic inspection device that records sound echoes within bolts, demonstrating exactly when a bolt needs retightening, with the potential to reduce the frequency of bolt maintenance significantly.
An additional advantage of the solution is the data it will supply to wind farm operators, allowing them to predict the loss of tension likely on a turbine’s bolts and schedule routine inspections more accurately, reducing unnecessary work days spent offshore.
Peter Andrews came up with the innovative idea after working as a wind farm O&M manager and founded Energy Integrity Services to support the industry in driving down its maintenance costs. He said:
“The first time I visited an offshore wind farm, I witnessed technicians having to work in very confined, hazardous spaces in the foundations. I thought there must be a far less labour-intensive (and safer) way of doing the job. That’s when the seed for EchoBolt was sown. Working with ORE Catapult has enabled us to obtain Innovate UK funding, access their expertise and put us into contact with GE Renewable Energy. We now have the very precious opportunity to test the idea in both simulated and real-world conditions.”
With the UK Government targeting a five-fold increase in exports from UK offshore wind suppliers (to £2.6 billion per year) by 2030, the announcement of industry backing for a high-potential home-grown product is significant. In the next two years alone, Peter expects to grow his company by an additional 10-20 employees in readiness for commercial roll-out.
Chris Hill, Operational Performance Director at ORE Catapult, said:
“EchoBolt is set to reduce the need for manual work in a crucial operational area, bringing huge safety and cost benefits. This is also a story about a sole entrepreneur who has won heavyweight industry backing through sheer ingenuity. The UK supply chain needs many more stories like this one, and we will be providing EchoBolt with expertise from our engineering team, access to our world-leading test facilities and business development support right up to the point of commercialisation.”
Vincent Schellings, General Manager for Engineering and Product Management, GE Offshore Wind, added:
“We are excited to support an idea that has such potential to help us in our development of next generation technology for the wind industry. We look forward to seeing how EchoBolt performs in real-world conditions: digitalising operations is a focus of our own research for equipping the renewables industry of the future.”