| Written by Michal Wozniakowski-Zehenter
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Remote locations, largely tens of kilometres away from the shore and harsh environments – rough seas and extreme temperatures pose various challenges to the safety and productivity of the crew maintaining the offshore wind farms as well as operational continuity. Any massive turbines and wind farms produce more energy meaning more profit is at risk with any delays and outages during maintenance phases; that's why proper planning and execution with undisturbed communication between crucial personnel is important.
Constant information flow starts between engineers working on the turbine, with the offshore control room, vessel operator and onshore operation centre. There are plenty of choices regarding available technologies to provide links between those parties. Some are very well-known and established, yet not that reliable; others are using the latest solution and technologies.
Everyone must have the same information – where is the location which requires additional work, whether it is an inspection or scheduled maintenance, who is performing the task, what is the number of personnel, and who is being transported to each turbine.
Read more about Emergency Response Offshore...
Considering the average size of an Offshore Wind Turbine with 120m high and 40m long blades, which is constantly growing, there are typically two Heavy Duty VoIP telephones installed inside the turbine – one on the ground level and one inside the nacelle, enabling workers to communicate with each other during their work on site.
VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol – technology which converts the voice into a digital signal that travels over the internet. Since fibreglass cables, laid on the seabed, connect each turbine with onshore facilities, a broadband connection is available. With this high-speed internet, on top of sending all the data from the turbine components, two-way communication with experts on land is possible, including better voice quality.
What is not already installed on the turbine is needed to be brought by the crew. The most common personnel communication device is TETRA, an abbreviation of Terrestrial Trunked Radio. It is a standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and is widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. It uses a digital modulation scheme to provide high-quality voice communication. Tetra radios are particularly suitable for offshore wind farms due to their ability to provide coverage over long distances, even in harsh and remote environments. They also offer a range of features, such as GPS location tracking, group calling, emergency calling, and messaging, that make them well-suited for communication in large and complex installations. The use of this technology is often supported by a dedicated communication network, which the wind farm operator or a third-party provider can set up. This network provides the necessary infrastructure and connectivity to ensure that Tetra radios can operate reliably and securely, even in such a challenging environment.
For safety and reliability reasons, the maintenance crew is equipped with a second source of communication. Satellite phones are able to connect to satellites orbiting the Earth, allowing them to provide coverage in areas where traditional cellular networks are not available. The signal from the device transmits directly to the nearest satellite, which then sends it to the nearest gateway or land-based centre. It then transmits the signal to the receiving phone - a landline, a cell phone or another satellite phone.
Using existing infrastructure on the turbine with internet access, personal computers, or tablet devices is very common as a communication tool. HSE briefings, data sheets, email communication and other documents with instructions and feedback are crucial to analyse and executing the maintenance objectives of the offshore wind turbines. Often, those devices are used for video calls with an onshore operation centre to get the support of additional engineers.
Sometimes, devices do not need to communicate with the outside world, except for other engineers who are in sight. That helps to indicate the position of other people or equipment in order to perform safe operations and identify quickly and easily potential hazards and take appropriate measures to avoid them. Signage is also used to indicate dangerous areas, provide instructions for emergency procedures or help to locate fire extinguishers or first aid kits. Colour coding and markings also identify high-risk locations and emergency routes. Lighting indicates the equipment's location or provides visual navigation cues as the vessel's positioning.
Radio Frequency Identification technology can also be beneficial in communication. RFID tags can be placed on workers' personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety equipment to track their movements between the vessel and the turbine and ensure that the entire crew is wearing the necessary safety gear in hazardous areas. This can help prevent accidents and injuries and verify that safety protocols are followed at all times. This technology can also be used to track the location of safety equipment such as life jackets, life rafts, and rescue equipment. This can help ensure that these critical items are always in the right place when needed in an emergency situation.
The need for engineers and technicians is overwhelming with a rapidly growing industry and the amount of new offshore wind farms. There's a constant flow of new workers to maintenance and operator companies from different sides of the world. One of the most significant issues besides lack of experience is the language barrier. Being able to understand each other in order to perform tasks safely is a must. Using clear and understandable messaging while using the radio or phone to give and receive instructions is crucial to have a common understanding of the situation and mitigate any potential risks. Training on radio usage is critical to ensure how to operate it and comprehend the value of using clear and concise language, especially to perform under tremendous stress or in dangerous situations.
Read further how to integrate RFID mustering in an offshore safety concept.
- How important for Health & Safety (HSE) is communication within offshore wind farms?
Offshore wind farms are complex and hazardous environments that require effective communication to ensure the safety of all personnel and the integrity of the equipment by helping to prevent accidents, identify hazards, and respond to emergencies. Without good communication, misunderstandings can occur, and important information may not be relayed on time, increasing the risk of incidents and injuries. Therefore, personnel should be trained in this matter, including clear and concise messaging, active listening, and the ability to communicate effectively in high-pressure situations.
- How far are offshore wind farms from the land?
The average distance of offshore wind farms from the shore varies depending on the specific location and circumstances of the wind farm. Generally, they are typically located within 20-30 kilometres of the coast, but they can be as close as a few or as far as 100 kilometres away depending on the regulations and costs of bringing the energy to the onshore power grid.
- How many people maintain offshore wind farms?
The number of people required to maintain an offshore wind farm can vary depending on the size of the wind farm and the type of turbines used. However, generally speaking, it's a relatively small number of workers. A typical offshore wind farm may have a maintenance crew of around 50-100 people, although some larger wind farms may require up to 200 personnel. This crew will typically include a mix of engineers, technicians, and other support staff, such as project managers and safety officers. The maintenance crew is responsible for ensuring proper operation, which includes tasks such as regular inspections, troubleshooting, and repairs in compliance with safety regulations and environmental standards. Due to the remote location, personnel may work in shifts and be required to stay on-site for extended periods, sometimes for several weeks or months at a time.
In conclusion, the significance of efficiency cannot be overstated when it comes to maintaining HSE in offshore wind farm communication. The remote and harsh environment poses various challenges that require proper planning and execution with undisturbed communication between crucial personnel. With the advent of advanced technologies and other tools, workers can stay informed and connected with onshore facilities, experts, and each other.
Furthermore, in the face of the rapidly growing offshore wind industry and the influx of new personnel from different parts of the world, language barriers must be addressed to ensure safe operations. By promoting a culture of safety through effective communication, offshore wind farms can operate smoothly and without incident.
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