OneStep Power Solutions’ Sarah Whiteford discusses the challenges of vessel power system testing during Covid-19 and how the company’s newly developed remote technology is supporting the OSV sector
With the increased use of batteries in the offshore sector, US-based OneStep Power Solutions, Inc had anticipated a surge in demand for power system testing, notably for dynamically positioned (DP) vessels. To that end, the company had deployed its new in-person testing solution, targeting the OSV industry and the increasing number of hybrid power applications in the ferry and cruise sector.
But then came Covid-19, countrywide lockdowns, travel restrictions and a downturn in the offshore oil and gas market which forced beleaguered OSV owners to consider redundancies, restructuring and vessel layups.
“It was an incredibly sobering experience, particularly after all the enthusiasm we saw early in  at the Annual OSJ Conference and Maritime Battery Forum,” says OneStep Power Solutions founding director Sarah Whiteford. A once promising offshore recovery faded amid falling oil prices, while the global cruise market was forced to pause during the pandemic. “The offshore industry saw a rapid return to cost-cutting, but the ferries and cruise lines were even harder hit. Even our backup plans needed backup plans,” observes Ms Whiteford.
The company’s testing solutions demonstrate how an OSV’s system operates in a fault scenario: short circuit, loss of sensing, or rapid changes in voltage. But to do that, personnel need access to the vessel or facility.
With the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 by the World Health Organisation, in-person testing of vessel power systems was no longer a practical option.
“Initially, we were focused on using the downtime between projects to develop tech, improve our existing tech, and find out what our clients wanted next,” says Ms Whiteford. “The lockdown presented an amazing opportunity for us to come out with some new technologies and build the relationships with our overseas clients.”
While observing best practices from other organisations, OneStep took the time to develop its own Covid-19 management plan. The result was no workplace transmission of the disease. “We took the risk of transmission very seriously from the outset,” says Ms Whiteford.
Given the current challenging economic climate for the offshore and maritime sectors, reducing testing costs for clients was another area of focus for OneStep Power in 2020. “Testing is a necessity, not a luxury,” says Ms Whiteford. “The industry needs to have safe and proven power systems aboard their vessels. We want to test vessels faster and improve the cost-profile of high-quality, repeatable testing.”
“Testing is a necessity, not a luxury”
In September, OneStep Power published an open call for companies with dynamically positioned vessels that required support in ensuring the safety and reliability of their 24V DC cross-connections. “We really just wanted to understand vessel owners’ needs better,” she says. “We knew we had a couple of solutions that might be the right fit, but we needed more information on the problems with current solutions and what was driving the decisions around those problems.”
The open call resulted in a rapid response from industry, with the offer of a DP2 offshore support vessel. Within three weeks of the response, OneStep’s Houston office delivered the DC Cross-connections Short Circuit Under Test or DCShortCUT. OneStep Power’s DCShortCUT is a testing technology for validating 24V DC cross connection fault tolerance aboard dynamically positioned vessels.
The DCShortCUT unit is temporarily installed to the system under test. Using a controller and human-machine interface (HMI), the DCShortCUT induces a series of faults in the 24V DC system. This enables load step tests, overload tests, short circuits, short to ground, over-voltage and failure of power supply tests to be carried out.
To support remote and international projects, videos of the DCShortCUT were developed, along with a vessel impact assessment, onsite test plan, and manuals. “Everything is peer-reviewed at OneStep Power. We knew the success of this project was reliant upon getting it right the first time. Everything needed to be double and triple checked,” observes Ms Whiteford.
“We realised we were running the risk of deploying too rapidly and knew we needed to take the time to engineer it right, even if it meant long days in the office.” Bench testing was an important step in the process. OneStep Power built a duplicate of the vessel’s 24V cross-connections on the bench in Houston and tested the system comprehensively prior to the equipment being loaded out.
Using DCShortCUT, a full suite of testing was performed without any changes being made to protection systems or any intervention on the system. The OSV was able to comprehensively demonstrate the fault tolerance of the 24V DC cross-connections.
The OneStep Power process includes development of a comprehensive onsite test plan in advance of mobilisation, and a detailed report demonstrating the responses of the system for every test. OneStep estimates vessel owners can expect a two- to three-day onsite validation programme for all 24V DC cross-connections.
Ms Whiteford says the development of DCShortCUT represents a significant shift in the risk profile of 24V DC cross-connections. “These cross-connections are vital to the control of many vessels. Proving the cross-connection safely, quickly and in a repeatable manner is the only way to maintain the reliability of a cross-connected system. The DCShortCUT offers fast, repeatable testing across a comprehensive range of faults, to rapidly demonstrate the safety of the system for clients and industry stakeholders,” she concludes.