Scottish company Span Access Solutions Ltd is developing an innovative way to access offshore wind turbine blades that could save £1.05bn across the current European fleet of offshore wind farms.
The £830k Innovate UK-backed project Blade Access System and Working Environment (BASE) will develop a tower-mounted blade access system and habitat to provide a stable working environment for technicians undertaking blade maintenance – reducing maintenance costs and minimising turbine downtime and lost revenue while increasing the quality of repairs and performance upgrades.
Span Access, based in Kinross and Methil, is a specialist in alternative access and working at height solutions and will work in partnership with the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, Turner Access Ltd, Turner Iceni along with Dundee and Robert Gordon Universities to adapt their patented product suite to a solution for offshore wind.
The Span Access product is a purpose built, modular access platform technology for working at height and its flexible, adaptable systems can be designed to accommodate improved access to any challenging blade design.
The BASE project aims to create an optimised prototype access solution for offshore wind farms, which will be demonstrated at ORE Catapult’s 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine in Fife.
The repair of blade damage and/or installation of performance upgrades is typically performed using rope access technicians and access platforms suspended from the turbine nacelle. The length of turbine downtime, and hence lost energy production, using this approach is high and the quality of repairs are often difficult to manage in highly variable weather and working conditions.
Ross Turner, Managing Director of Span Access said: “The BASE solution will be faster to deploy and more flexible to use than traditional suspended platforms and so the revenue lost from forced turbine shutdowns associated with blade maintenance will be substantially reduced.
“The BASE habitat environment is also unique. We’ll be able to control the temperature and humidity within the habitat, increasing the weather windows for performing maintenance and improving the quality of complex repairs that require stable environmental conditions for curing materials.”
Strategy Manager Andy Kay from ORE Catapult said: “The BASE project could revolutionise offshore wind blade access and repair. The project will deliver a solution that can be used by all blade maintenance providers and will reduce the number of repairs and associated costs required over the lifetime of an offshore wind project and help improve health and safety.
“Accessing real-world operational sites to test and demonstrate new products can be a real barrier to small companies looking to break into the offshore wind market. Using our Levenmouth Turbine offers an easily accessible alternative to demonstrating the BASE solution offshore in harsh and difficult to access sites.”
 Cost modelling performed by ORE Catapult estimates that this technology has potential to reduce the Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) by 0.6%. Applying this saving to the current 13.5GW of EU installed offshore wind capacity, this amounts to lifetime savings of £1.05bn.