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Managing Risks for Offshore Renewables

By MarEx 2014-04-09 09:26:00

Written by Mike Frampton

Offshore renewable installations - wind farms in particular - are growing in size, generating capability and complexity. As new technologies are embraced, arrangements for the transportation and installation of wind turbines becomes more challenging and uncertain. Risk is shouldered by the developer and offset in the insurance market but neither the developer nor the underwriter want anything to go wrong. To help mitigate the risk they generally employ a marine warranty surveyor (MWS) to review and approve the transportation and installation process by closely and critically monitoring the contractors employed to carry out the various tasks.

This is nothing new, the role of the MWS hails from the 1960s when a need was identified to reduce claims and increase the reliability of construction in the offshore oil and gas sector. In general, the MWS will observe all marine operations from the original fabrication yard right through to the equipment arriving and being installed at its offshore site. The surveyors are generally nominated by the underwriters but appointed by the developer from an approved list.

So what does the MWS actually do? In short, they review, survey, approve and monitor. The task begins with a thorough review of the design, analysis and method statements that detail how the job will be undertaken. The MWS will comment, make recommendations and when needed issue a certificate of approval for an operation to proceed. He or she will also want to ensure adequate contingencies are in place to manage changing circumstances such as the approach of bad weather. Once the surveyor is happy, a certificate of approval is issued and the job can begin – but that certificate can be withdrawn at any stage if an unforeseen event arises part way through the operation. Clearly all large projects of this nature involve inherent risks. A very high risk project might not be insurable and of course a risk free project requires no insurance. But in the real world projects are set between these extremes. So the MWS seeks to ensure risks are minimized to a reasonable level.          

The renewable sector has evolved from onshore wind farms through near shore and shallow water developments. The challenges become more complex when renewables are moved into deeper water. Offshore wind farms involve many similar installations over large expanses of water. These need support in terms of installing the foundations, wind turbines (WTG), array cabling, offshore substations, export cables and other services which all need tight coordination. Unlike an oil and gas platform, installing an offshore wind farm involves repeating a process many times and the warranty surveyor is looking for a robust installation methodology which the contractor can repeat with each installation. The surveyor will generally attend the first two or three installations and then, perhaps 10% of subsequent installations where they are confirming that agreed procedures are being followed or improved as appropriate.

Jack-up platforms are often employed for craneage offshore as they provide a tall and stable platform compared to the deck of a ship, which is particularly important for the very high lifts needed to install the WTG. The warranty surveyor will advise on whether these are fit for purpose, can safely lift to the correct height and are storm safe.

Coordinating marine activities on-site is another area of interest for the warranty surveyor. Here, they are interested in confirming that the contractor is not planning to have too many vessels on site at the same time, in too close proximity; and that exclusion zones and surveys are implemented to avoid cables and other seabed activities interfering with each other.

As technology evolves and the search for renewable energies reaches more remote areas, the methods adopted to transport, install and maintain these large structures will become ever more complex. Complexity brings greater risk and greater consequence. It is the role of the marine warranty surveyor to review these processes and to ensure procedures are in place to control risks to a reasonable level. They are a vital link in the risk management chain and provide an experienced, independent overview of the entire transportation and installation process.

Mike Frampton is a Master Mariner and Director with LOC London where he leads in offshore wind farms and wet renewables.