Published 5 August 2021 Last updated 25 August 2021

Identifying abnormalities in an offshore turbine structure is key to a lasting operational lifetime. Current practice requires manned vessels to get up close to structures in order to obtain this necessary data but this presents many issues. Due to the unpredictable nature of the offshore environment this not only creates health and safety hazards, it also often means that inspections cannot be carried out as frequently as required. Inspection vessels can also accumulate high costs and emit large volumes of CO2 during their operation.

MarynSol, an Edinburgh-based marine data acquisition company and HydroSurv, an Exeter-based uncrewed marine vehicle robotics survey company, have collaborated alongside ORE Catapult to tackle this industry challenge as part of the Innovate UK-funded SeaWynd project. The project team have developed a new integrated, multi-sensory platform that will enable the remote inspection of marine turbine structures. SeaWynd combines MarynSol’s advanced automated data solution, SeaSmart, with HydroSurv’s state-of-art REAV class Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) to inspect the seabed to ‘splash zone’ of an offshore turbine.

With the use of a remotely controlled vessel, operators are removed from the dangerous environment and can acquire the data from shore. This will allow for the overall procedure to become more flexible and cost effective since expensive crew vessels would be unnecessary. This is of course attractive to offshore wind farm operators as it will contribute to the pertinent lifetime cost reduction of O&M procedures.

The USVs are mounted with LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and MBES (Multibeam Echosounder) sensors to generate a high-resolution 3D-georefereced structural mesh of the turbines structure. Pairing this with HD video capability, the mesh is populated with high quality textures allowing a realistic inspection data model of the turbine and surveyed area to be developed. This provides turbine operators with rapid and superior data ‘from seabed to splash zone’, enabling them to identify abnormal conditions on the structure at an accelerated rate.

Another benefit of this disruptive technology is the combination of sensors that can conduct multiple tasks simultaneously, creating an extremely efficient inspection procedure. Previous data sets will also be used to identify change detection over time – helping to spot trends and pre-emptively identify structural concerns.

Trials at the World’s Most Advanced Open-Access Offshore Wind Turbine

As is often the case with developing technologies, it can be difficult for SMEs, like HydroSurv and MarynSol, to test and validate their innovations within real life conditions on an offshore turbine. This is where ORE Catapult has come into play. We have provided them with valuable access to our Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine (LDT) enabling them to rigorously test their technology and gain tangible data. This is extremely crucial in gaining investor confidence and securing end users, helping the companies disseminate outcomes in their preparation for market and commercialisation. As a result of this access to the LDT the technology has progressed from Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4, technology validated in lab, to 6, technology demonstrated in relevant environment and both companies hiring new employees.

In the most recent test for SeaWynd at the LDT, the project partners were able to generate high quality images and scans from the sensor devices of the turbine’s structure and surrounding area. HydroSurv and MarynSol were also able to demonstrate the technology’s ability to get up close to the structure to highlight details that were previously difficult to obtain. A highly detailed 3D-georeferenced mesh was generated during the tests highlighting this devices potential for deployment on operational wind farms.

In the UK alone the market for this specific marine inspection task is expected to grow to £8 million by 2030, boosting UK jobs, and exports. The SeaWynd solution is well on its way to meeting the need of this rapidly growing market.