Offshore wind design

Lifecycle engineering managers add cradle-to-grave asset value

Cost and time-conscious offshore wind farm operators have a new ally on their side. A new breed of engineer-managers can help to maximise total lifecycle value before any key procurement decisions are taken.

( Text content written by Twenty6 for Diego Cocco, LIC Energy )

New confidence in the future

Caveat emptor is the traditional warning for would-be purchasers – ‘buyer beware’! However, a new engineering-design specialist is waiting in the wings with skills to help ensure that high-cost decisions taken today are not made at the expense of options which might be very important a quarter of a century into the future.

One of the Life Cycle Engineering Manager’s primary roles is to understand what the operator wants to achieve as ‘End of Life’ approaches for an offshore wind farm. Here, ‘End of Life’ is taken to be the end of the original project design life. Based on this, their aim is then to make sure that as many positive commercial outcomes as possible remain open, bearing in mind the changing economic circumstances and technical developments.

Data technology makes a difference

What makes the Life Cycle Engineering Manager’s role possible is the rapid development of digital monitoring technology. This is giving increasingly precise real-time insights into the actual wear and tear offshore assets under dynamic stresses are exposed to when compared to the theoretical design conditions upon which the design was based. This can give real-time feedback on the asset ageing process.

The significance is that life cycle managers can now advise meaningfully on how to design out corrosion points and weaknesses at a very early stage, knowing that the resulting incremental gains can be measured and used either to generally streamline asset performance, or to add a new lease of life.

Armed with this knowledge, specialist manager’s job is to work back from the future to identify the best practical design solutions that can be put into place today.

A crucial technique in this process is for the Life Cycle Engineering Manager to put themselves in the shoes of the asset owner in year 18 or 20 of the asset life. Then considering the issues being raised due to asset age and wear and tear, the preferred design decisions will become apparent.

Beyond short-term gains

The gains leveraged by this more enlightened approach are in contrast to standard EPCI contracts (Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Installation). Because the initial EPCI contractor is responsible for all key decisions prior to commissioning and handover to the end-user, there is often an unhelpful emphasis on short-term manufacturing, transportation and installation priorities.

The downside of EPCI is that some of the convenient decisions made early in the design stage create strategic weaknesses that can be hard or impossible to correct as the structure ages.

It is the Life Cycle Engineering Manager’s task to spot and mitigate these pinch-points at the outset, in many cases before ‘methods and procedures’ have been considered, and certainly before procurement commitments are made.

Working together

How will the new breed of service/consultant/engineering leaders work with clients and designers in practice?

In addition to focussing on manufacturing, transportation, storage and installation essentials, the scope of their work will take into account three options where owners/operators have future control: –

  • O&M – Not only can maintenance costs be minimised, they can also be compared accurately against the conventional alternative – decommissioning – to determine which is more economic at any point in the future.

  • Decommissioning – Where decommissioning is still preferable, the costs can be minimised. There is also the reassurance of knowing for certain that a high-value asset really has reached the end of its operational days.

  • Life extensions – Between the option of the business as usual levels of O&M costs for the theoretical lifespan of assets and the ‘end game’ option of decommissioning, life extension now provides the third way of a realistic, safe and cost-efficient ‘after-life’ with a very welcome revenue stream. Informed by the performance of the asset through the normal design life, costs during life extension can be pared back, based on actual loads and the nature of the asset aging process.

This is a growth area where I expect to see considerable expansion.

It will also make retrofitting decisions much easier to reach.