Remote-controlled surveyor is a good fit for the fast-growing offshore wind industry
Ireland-based XOcean is in the business of data, which it provides to a growing range of users in offshore oil and gas, offshore renewables and government agencies.
Like a growing number of data providers, it uses unmanned vessels to gather the data its clients need, but it believes it has a unique selling point (USP) with its growing family of unmanned surface vessels (USVs). That USP is that its long-range USVs can be operated over great distances, under remote control from the shore, without using a vessel to direct them. That makes them less expensive to operate and greener than the alternatives.
XOcean chief executive James Ives was a data user himself in a former life as chief executive of marine turbine company OpenHydro Group. “I think that like me, a lot of people found it frustrating sometimes when they needed to secure data,” he tells OWJ. “At the same time, there is a trend everywhere to operate with a much lower carbon footprint. Safety is also right at the top of everyone’s wish list, and so too is reducing the cost of obtaining data.
“That is where XOcean comes in, providing a safe, secure, green turnkey data collection service to surveyors, companies and agencies. There are a number of ways of collecting data, from mapping the seabed to environmental monitoring, but we believe ours is unique because our platform has the kind of range that enables it to remain at sea for three to four weeks at a time, all the while controlled from the shore, rather than from a vessel. That makes it much less expensive than many other options.”
The USVs the company developed are about the size of a small car but weigh much less. It was designed to use as little power as possible, while ensuring there is sufficient for the power-hungry instruments used in survey work. They have a hybrid system that combines lithium ion batteries and a small diesel generator and can be operated ‘over the horizon’ using satellite communications. The USVs send real-time images and situational awareness data to XOcean’s operations centre, where a team of USV pilots keep watch and control the vessels around the clock. The USV pilots are also responsible for collision avoidance.
“We have collected thousands of kilometres of data for clients in the offshore oil and gas sector, and recently moved into offshore wind with a survey on behalf of the SSE Renewables/innogy joint venture on the Greater Gabbard offshore windfarm,” Mr Ives explains. “Our XO-450 USV carried out seabed surveys on seven of the turbines at the windfarm. Throughout the survey, the data collected was monitored from shore in real-time, to validate data collection before the vessel departed.”
Mr Ives and his colleagues are now scaling-up the size of the company and completed a €7.9M (US$8.7M) funding round towards the end of 2019. The company is building several more USVs and recently acquired 4D Ocean, a specialist autonomous hydrographic survey company with which it has worked on several projects. Both companies have been growing quickly and share a common vision.
“We are building seven more USVs at the moment and have plans for more after that,” says Mr Ives. “We see offshore wind as a tremendously exciting market with a lot of potential. We think we are a good fit for that market too, particularly as offshore windfarms are built further offshore and as more and more countries get into offshore wind.
“The need for the kind of data we provide is only going to grow,” he concludes. “We also see growing demand coming from transmission system operators in addition to government agencies, developers and windfarm operators, and have already had a lot of interesting discussions.”
Riviera’s Offshore Wind Journal Conference will explore the opportunities available in the sector on a regional basis, review the latest industry trends and drivers and the technology advances enabling the move to deeper waters on 4 February 2020 in London. Book your ticket now