Since the first offshore wind farm was installed in Denmark in 1991, the industry has developed at a rapid pace, and Europe is at the forefront of this growth. In 2014 alone, 408 offshore turbines were installed in the region, with a combined capacity of 1,483MW, and 536 turbines were erected. Overall, nearly 2,500 turbines are now connected to the grid, and the total is set to keep rising quickly.


While there is still a focus on increasing capacity, a growing priority is to bring down the cost of power generated by offshore wind farms relative to other sources. An initiative currently under way is bringing together thought leaders in every key sector to push the envelope on efficiency and cost savings. Logistic Efficiencies and Naval architecture for Wind Installations with Novel Developments – better known as LEANWIND – is an ambitious project that has fostered unprecedented cooperation between industry players.


Co-funded by the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) of the European Union, LEANWIND is a direct approach to tackling the inefficiencies in logistics and transport issues across the whole lifecycle of offshore wind installations. The four-year project, which began in December 2013 and is led by Beaufort Research in Ireland’s University College Cork, brings together dozens of partners from 11 countries. With funding totalling €15 million, including €10 million from the European Commission, it is exploring innovative ways to transport components, manage and organise ports, adapt fixed and floating turbine structures to aid installation, and evaluate new maintenance technologies.

"As offshore installations are moving into deeper water, LEANWIND is intended to put forward educated solutions to the challenges that are arising."

The aim is to apply ‘lean’ principles, which define the operation of many manufacturing processes in numerous industries, to the organisation of processes and the development of new technologies that will take efficiency to the next level and, therefore, make industry more competitive with other methods of energy generation in terms of cost.


"The offshore industry is growing at such a pace that the need to reduce costs is key to making wind economical. The big challenge is to keep up with technology development. LEANWIND is a four-year project, but technology is developing very quickly. In one year we have gone from 3.6MW turbines to talk of up to 8MW turbines. The goal is to reach capital expenditure of £100 a megawatt and reduce opex.


"At the same time, as offshore installations are moving into deeper water, LEANWIND is intended to put forward educated solutions to the challenges that are arising," says Ross Wigg, head of renewables at Lloyd’s Register.


Better by design

The lean concept was originally developed by Toyota to optimise manufacturing processes, focus on the removal of wasteful stages and foster process innovation. Lloyd’s Register Energy, which is one of the industry’s foremost authorities on managing risk, will be central to one of the ten work packages in LEANWIND, focusing on the design of the next generation of marine vessels.


The ‘novel vessels and equipment’ work package, which runs in parallel with other packages such as technical management, and economic and market assessment, directly addresses the challenges of installation and maintenance of offshore wind farms. With design tools, numerical analysis and experimental testing processes at their disposal, the team members look into new or modified vessel designs and equipment innovations that can accommodate future technology development in a cost-efficient way.


"The planned size of turbines has literally doubled in the past two years, and this has a big impact on the vessels used to install and maintain them. Vessels are often bespoke and take three to four years to design and build," says Richard Nott, vice-president of compliance operations at Lloyd’s Register Energy, who focuses on technical development.


"Shipyards can’t just pump out vessels. It is very complex to plan if turbines are twice as large, and there needs to be more certainty about what is required if someone is going to spend £150 million on a vessel," adds Wigg.


Clarity in the midst of evolution

With its unique perspective on the associated risks of technology development, equipment installation and investment, Lloyd’s Register will, in part, work to provide clarity for vessel designers looking to cope with the industry’s rapid evolution.


"There needs to be confidence in the choices wind farm developers make about turbine sizes, so that shipbuilders can get value over the life of vessels and the number of installations. Moving further offshore also raises challenges for installation vessels, as it increases the leg length in jackup solutions. LEANWIND is about finding out what the challenges are, what is state-of-the-art, what solutions vessel designers have and how projects can mature with the flow of information between the various work packages," explains Rebecca Sykes, marine energy leader at Lloyd’s Register.


The art of managing complexity

The sheer scope of LEANWIND makes it a hugely diverse and complex project for an industry still in its embryonic phase. One year into a four-year project, it is perhaps inevitable that more questions than answers have been raised, but there is a sense that it has reached tipping point and that its aims have adapted to reflect more accurately what the industry requires. The project has an organic feel that affords it the flexibility to shape itself according to the challenges – foreseen and unforeseen – that it brings to light.


"This is an industry that has been criticised in the past for the lack of communication between the various parties, but there is now a real desire to share knowledge and understanding. Of course, that raises big challenges, but there is a much more collaborative approach evolving between competitors and their potential clients. There is a passion across the project to ensure that the deliverables are of great value and that the industry takes a big step forward," says Wigg.


"There are still commercial sensitivities in a consortium of this size, and not everything can be shared. But the questions can be phrased in such a way that they respect commercial necessities," notes Sykes.


In total, there are 31 partners in LEANWIND, ranging from respected academic institutions to small, specialist design agencies. Among them are Norway’s Norsk Marinteknisk Forskningsinstitutt, Denmark’s Maersk Training Svendborg, French utility Electricité de France, the UK’s University of Edinburgh, Spain’s Iberdrola Renovables Energía, and industry association the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). Lloyd’s Register is working with utilities, wind farm operators, service-vessel builders, installation-vessel operators, experimental testing facilities and research institutions to develop its work package.


"This is a very wide-ranging project that looks at the whole of the offshore wind industry. Communication between all the parties is certainly a challenge, but everyone is working very hard to make it smooth and efficient," remarks Nott.


"We have to be proactive. Everything runs on the enthusiasm of the participants. Every package has its own milestones and we use as many IT tools as possible to coordinate progress across the overall project board, so close relationships are forming between the partners," adds Richard White, marine surveyor at Lloyd’s Register Marine and project manager for LEANWIND.


Designs to match development

For the Lloyds Register group, the next milestone is to produce initial design concepts for vessels that can operate more efficiently in an industry where the pace of technology development is so rapid.


"We have established the direction the designs will take, so now we must work closely with Delta Marine on more detailed designs. These are now being put into computer models, so having created the vessel mission profiles, we will soon be entering the initial design phase," says Sykes.


"It is hard to put a value on the precise impact LEANWIND will have on cost and efficiency, but so much will be generated from it – not least the software tools – that it will be of great benefit. Of course, it will raise as many questions as it answers, but that is the nature of meaningful research," she adds.


Progress has been relatively swift in terms of meeting milestones for work package 3, as it has been for many other strands of the initiative. Now starts the detailed design phase for vessels, the completion of which will have far-reaching implications for the commercial adoption of the next generation of installation and maintenance vessels.


The outcome of the work done by Lloyd’s Register and its collaborators in its work package will be an essential part of the nexus where vessel design meets operational considerations, so there is much still to be done as the various work streams converge on the project’s ultimate goal. Many challenges lie ahead, but it seems that LEANWIND is the right forum for the industry to address the many difficult issues it faces and apply innovative thinking to find workable solutions.