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Windfarm Autonomous Ship Project (WASP)

Published 13 June 2018

Studying the utility of autonomous surface vessels in offshore wind

Across all operations and maintenance spend, vessels and people make up 60 – 65% of costs.

Currently, offshore wind farm maintenance is dependent on suitable weather conditions for access to turbines and availability of necessary equipment and replacement parts.

The current climate for autonomous systems in offshore renewable energy operations is fast evolving with the use of autonomous vessels becoming common place and trust in unmanned systems increasing.

As the size of turbines increase and the sites move further offshore, manned operations and maintenance become increasingly difficult to perform. Productivity of technicians is often reduced due to extreme sea conditions, creating a hazardous working environment.

As a result, it can often lead to failed crew transfers, increasing the costs associated with O&M due to longer periods of downtime losses and greater cost of repairs. Robotics and autonomous systems can provide crucial solutions for these challenges in offshore operations.

The WASP Project

The Windfarm Autonomous Ship Project (WASP) is a feasibility study to understand market demand for autonomous vessels offshore and develop scenarios and a concept design of an integrated autonomous vessel delivery system for offshore wind farm maintenance.

WASP addresses the identified need, challenge and market opportunity by researching and designing the world’s first integrated autonomous vessels and robotic cargo transfer mechanism for delivery of equipment to offshore wind farms.

The project has:

  • Benchmarked challenges for unmanned surface vessels (USVs) in arrays
  • Characterised USV performance potential
  • Created a sector route map for USV integration into manned vessel operations.

The Partners

The £900k project, which is part funded by Innovate UK, is led by L3 Harris in partnership with ORE Catapult, SeaPlanner LtdHoulder and the University of Portsmouth.

The project partners have developed:

  • An autonomous navigation and control system for the vessel from L3 Harris
  • A vessel concept design by Houlder that allows cargo to be collected from port and delivered directly to turbines without the need for crew
  • Extended software capabilities of the SeaPlanner software from the SeaRoc Group for the complete automation of monitoring and operation of USVs
  • A bespoke health monitoring system and logistics optimisation from the University of Portsmouth
  • Industry use cases; a Levelised Cost of Energy Model; a Cost Benefit Analysis comparing manned and unmanned operations and a technology road map from ORE Catapult

The WASP Report and RoadMap

ORE Catapult has also produced a final report and strategic roadmap for the introduction of autonomous vessels into manned vessel operations in the offshore wind sector. The roadmap provides a timeline for the phased introduction of autonomous vessels in windfarms in order to reduce the need to send people offshore while at the same time, reducing costs associated with O&M.

Cost reduction and performance analysis

ORE Catapult’s cost and performance analysis has pinpointed one of the ways this new capability of USVs can increase uptime of offshore wind turbines. Research conducted throughout the WASP project by the Catapult has identified the benefits of integrating USVs into offshore operations and maintenance in terms of additional revenue, higher productivity and reduced operating costs.

As a result of integrating USVs into offshore operations, this would mean for a 2GW cluster site:

  • An upfront capital cost reduction of £7.5m
  • An annual operating cost reduction of £850,000, or £21m over a 25-year operating life
  • Effective increase in net capacity factor of 0.1% due to faster servicing
  • The cost of the USV could be as high as £5,300 a day and still breakeven on the lifetime cost of the site

Increasing the use of autonomous vessels will also lead to the creation of highly skilled, cross sector jobs in areas such as the integration, planning and supervision of autonomous vessels, boosting the UK’s maritime and digital supply chains.