The offshore wind industry stands to gain significantly from digitalisation, but surveys suggest that many companies do not have sufficient capability, or know how to turn data into actionable insight
An independent survey carried out among key stakeholders in the offshore wind sector has revealed that more needs to be done when it comes to adopting and sharing new data and digital technologies.
Almost all participants who took part in the research (94%) said there is a gap between the way in which the offshore wind industry currently operates, and how it should be operating in order to extract the full value from data and digital technologies. One third of the respondents (31%) also admitted to having a low or very low understanding of data and its potential for the sector.
The Digital Innovation Priorities Survey was commissioned by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult with the aim of identifying the biggest data and digitalisation challenges currently facing the offshore wind industry. It also looked to uncover what measures could be taken to break down the barriers that exist to realising the potential of data and digitalisation for future growth in the sector, by exploring ways in which bottlenecks can be addressed and how ORE Catapult can help move the industry forwards.
Improving how the offshore wind industry gathers and uses data, analytics and insights is vital to the sector’s success and in achieving the ambitious growth targets set out in the recently announced joint UK Government-industry Sector Deal, which will see at least 30 GW installed UK offshore capacity by 2030, creating 27,000 jobs.
Turbine data accessibility and an unwillingness for organisations to share data with each other were cited as two of the main bottlenecks the industry is currently contending with, along with a lack of digital capability to understand and analyse data and turn it into actionable insight. More than a third of people (37%) said data sharing needs to be encouraged, while one fifth (20%) said standardising data formats would help the sector to better understand and take advantage of the information being presented to them.
ORE Catapult data and digitalisation team leader Dr Conaill Soraghan said it is the Catapult’s ambition to drive a ‘Race to Zero’ human intervention initiative in the UK, and to champion new technology that can help achieve the goal of minimising the time people have to spend offshore, which will enhance both safety and operating costs for offshore windfarms.
“We believe that data and digitalisation are a key area of opportunity for the offshore wind sector,” he explained. “The industry generates huge amounts of data and the potential it presents are endless, particularly in terms of improving efficiency, aiding decision making, reducing running costs and solving operation and maintenance issues.
“However, this survey has revealed there are significant challenges which exist around the effective management and use of data. Data owners are struggling with data volume, modern digital technologies are not being exploited to process and analyse data, and many digital service providers lack awareness of, and access to, the offshore wind industry to develop solutions for the sector. Concepts and techniques in areas such as big data and artificial intelligence are yet to have an impact in offshore wind, and that is something that needs to change if the sector is to embrace a more cost-effective future.”
Many of the leading organisations in offshore wind were selected to provide detailed responses as part of the survey, including windfarm owner/operators, original equipment manufacturers, consultants and supply chain companies. Of the supply chain companies questioned, almost a quarter (22%) explicitly said they found it harder to sell their services to the offshore wind sector compared to other sectors. Elsewhere, assistance with data governance, machine learning applications, developing digital twin models and analytical services were all cited as services yet to be commissioned by the offshore wind sector.
When asked which other sectors the offshore wind industry should be learning from, oil and gas was cited most heavily (31%) followed by the aerospace and aviation (25%), automotive (23%) and electrical power (20%) industries.
“While highlighting some key areas that need improvement, our survey has also endorsed the relevance of the work we do at the Catapult,” said Dr Soraghan. “There is a consensus from respondents that we are in the best position to lead progress in terms of data and digitalisation for the industry, with 76% of respondents registering a positive view of the role we can play. We are acting on the survey’s findings and are determined to move forward with initiatives that will help the industry adopt a more efficient, effective, data-driven future.”
Related research undertaken by the ORE Catapult also highlighted the advantages to the UK offshore wind sector of investing in inhouse data expertise to realise the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution, but also highlighted some of the challenges companies face.
The recommendation about investing in inhouse data expertise came from a report summarising the findings from ORE Catapult’s five ‘Data Pilot’ projects, commissioned by The Crown Estate, in which the Catapult worked with industrial partners in the offshore wind sector to solve operational challenges by using modern digital techniques.
The aim was to build an evidence base underlining the importance of embracing data and digital innovations to help lower the cost of offshore wind energy and accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy.
Emerging as a central theme from each of the five projects was a lack of understanding about the raw data produced by assets, and how to translate and use this data effectively to enhance operations. Data sets from windfarms are often large and poorly formatted and experts are required to prepare and analyse this kind of information. Investing in hiring and training data engineers and scientists could help the industry improve efficiency in the design, operations and maintenance of offshore renewable energy plant.
Dr Soraghan said the pilots clearly show there is a significant need for companies to invest in data expertise as an inhouse resource. The pilots also highlighted specific areas that companies should focus on developing skills in, such as machine learning, dashboarding and benchmarking.
Companies struggling with data processing need help to bring their data to life by building digital dashboards which can add huge value to their operations, he said.
“For global technology firms, data and technological innovation are the raw materials that drive their businesses. Offshore renewable organisations must follow their lead or risk being left behind in the fourth industrial revolution.”
The Crown Estate head of offshore assets Adrian Fox said that, together with the ORE Catapult, it is working to help the offshore wind sector unlock the benefits of data analysis, visualisation and insight; exploring how some of today’s operational issues could be resolved faster and more accurately using state-of-the-art techniques.
“The focus on driving value from data will bring real benefits to industry,” he said, “helping maintain offshore winds’ leading position as the renewable energy solution of choice for the UK and supporting UK talent to lead the fourth industrial revolution.”