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Vision for the Humber to be the blueprint for offshore wind O&M in the UK and overseas

AS the sector deal model was unveiled for the UK, Grimsby played host to a special event from the recently-initiated UK Operations and Maintenance Centre of Excellence. Business editor David Laister reports.

Vision for the Humber to be the blueprint for offshore wind O&M in the UK and overseas

WITH 10 wind farms likely to be operating from Grimsby by the middle of the next decade, and more zones likely to be released for long-term development in the next 12 months, it seemed very right that ‘Building on Industry Success: How are we Planning for the Future?’ was held in the town.

A partnership between Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and University of Hull, the Humber is the location and a physical base could yet emerge in Grimsby, but officials are tight-lipped at present.

Hopefully presence will follow prose in the coming months, and while steel in the ground was mentioned, where exactly was not, only for it to be “central to the region”.

But while no doubt, agreements, funding and other key issues are worked up, what it aims to achieve is clear, and strong overtures about the town were played out, by organisers and the keynote speaker, Ørsted UK managing director Matthew Wright.

Chris Hill, offshore performance director of ORE, said: “Since I was involved in the development risk for Hornsea zone, I have had regular visits to the region, and there has been huge progress in that time. With its maritime and energy heritage and geographical location the Humber is well positioned to play a huge role as a leading hub as we grow the offshore wind sector.

“We want to become recognised as the go-to centre for O&M, attract businesses to the area, to build and develop the existing cluster that’s here and support businesses to develop new technology and solutions, and to collaborate to help win new work.

“Here in Grimsby, what better place to talk about it, being a seafaring region with great heritage and expertise and resources for the marine environment. It has been a pioneer for the UK, and we are world leaders in offshore wind.

“It is a competitive space and fierce environment, and fast-changing. Capability is fast-growing in other jurisdictions and it is up to us to capitalise, to drive, to continue to innovate. We need to embrace Industry 4.0, digitalisation, robotics and machine learning. We are here to help and succeed in the fast changing environment.”

He referenced the good work of both Team Humber Marine Alliance and Grimsby Renewables Partnership in what has been achieved so far, with nearly 1.5GW now controlled from the port, and construction on course for 5GW, with more to follow.

Dave Richards, pro-vice chancellor of venture partner University of Hull, said: “We are delighted to be working with ORE Catapult to realise an operational centre of excellence, because we see a lot of opportunity here, and quality here. Why have we chosen to invest? When you look at offshore wind our belief is this is the place, and place is incredibly important in he Industrial Strategy. That’s where funds will be channeled.

“We want to provide a place, an obvious space where industry comes together, where we do lots of innovation and tickle the talent. As a university that’s one of our key roles.

“An announcement around an innovation centre, a base to support this, will come in the next few months, and then we will start putting steel in the ground and that will be a future home.”

With a Greater Grimsby Town Deal in Westminster and indelibly printed in the Industrial Strategy, endorsed by Prime Minister and Business and Energy Secretary, the road map is there.

“It is a real nascent industry with enormous potential,” Dr Robinson said. “No one place has all the answers, collaboration is absolutely key.”

Should there be any doubt that Grimsby is the place to do it, then Mr Wright’s invitation may well have erased them.

Buoyant having visited the £10 million East Coast Hub the team is currently creating at Royal Dock, he had joined the returning crew on the “new toy” – 81m service operation vessel Edda Passat – as she completed her maiden trip from the port to Race Bank.

He said: “It is a transformation. renewable energy has seen this dramatic increase, now it is has its own momentum, it is unstoppable. We can not only dream about, but really envisage a world that runs entirely on green energy. That’s our vision. We want to be at the vanguard of that.

“Our company is the world’s largest offshore wind developer, and we are the biggest by some distance. The UK is in front by far at the moment, the largest market and leading the world in decarbonisation.

“We have built 10 wind farms since 2006 and have a very strong pipeline, mostly off the East Coast. We have already got 2.5GW of capacity, and we are now going to raise to 4.4GW. Our business is going extremely well.

“£12 billion will have been invested in offshore wind in the UK by 2020, we have most recently begun Hornsea Project One and Hornsea Project Two will rapidly expand this.

“This is really where most of this is happening for us. Here we are in Grimsby, where we have made our East Coast home. If you threw a rather large ring around our projects in operation and construction, they all come back to a point on the Humber. This is the closest point with fantastic facilities to be able to service these wind projects.”

Looking holistically at the area, the Ørsted chief said: “We have economies of scale, critical mass, all the things we need to succeed right round this estuary. We have operations and maintenance centres, ours will be the largest operations and maintenance centre in the world, we have a blade factory on the North Bank, we are working with University of Hull and its collaborators.

“We have UTCs, Catch on the South Bank, we have all of these things here on the Humber, to take advantage of the global utilisation of offshore wind and we want it to happen here. The Humber can be the blueprint of growth of the offshore wind industry in the UK and internationally.”

Of the wider North Sea area, Mr Wright told how the UK could potentially power the whole of the EU nearly twice over.

Addressing nay-sayers – not that any were packed into Grimsby Institute’s University Centre – and those skeptical about cost reduction, the former water industry chief said: “It is real. The reasons are some of the more obvious things. Scale - the projects are getting bigger, further from shore, accessing higher wind speeds with much larger turbines. It is economics 1.01, economies of scale.

“Also, risk. 10 years ago we were stepping into the unknown. What would the sea bed conditions be like? How would the elements cause our turbines to wear? What kind of operational vessels would we have? Now this is common practice, we have taken the risk out of it.

“In Taiwan, we are really confident about offshore wind turbines dealing with earthquakes and typhoons. We are absolutely confident about robustness of technology, that it can deal with that.

A lot of the risk has come out of the industry, which has driven down the cost of capital and contingency, and of all the things it has had the largest impact.”

And giving an update on his morning visit “down dock”, Mr Wright added: “It is a bit of a construction site down there.

Where we built the operations centre for Westermost Rough three years ago, now – because it is going to be the operational centre for all of these projects – we are expanding it again.”

Scheduled for completion in the final quarter of this year, it is a £10 million investment.

“We are going to run five, maybe six projects out of there,” Mr Wright said. “It brings enormous synergies.”

He told how he had arrived at the event having taken the opportunity to welcome home Edda Passat, back from her first fortnight in the field.

“I was there this morning and I met the team who have been on the maiden voyage and they really, really like it.

“We’re not a competitor for P&O but it has a cinema room, gym, the cabins are really nice and apparently the food is fantastic. Not only is it a good place to spend a couple of weeks, from an operational standpoint this vessel is state-of-the-art. It has a motion-controlled gangway, you walk to work from this vessel, you don’t push on and climb up. It comes in, locks on, and we have access. In the bowels of the vessel is a warehouse, with all the parts we need, with a lift that comes up to the gangway. It is a big beast, and it has just transformed what we do.

“Technicians have already done transfers at 2.3m wave height, considerably more than you get from a CTV. It is a potential range and condition that will allow us to transfer on to a turbine and get us back working if it has tripped out and gone down.”

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