Why Offshore Wind Farms Need Drones

Offshore wind farms are a critical source of green energy. While inspecting these massive turbines isn’t easy, drones provide a safe, inexpensive solution, as well as other benefits.

Our global need for electricity continues to grow every year. And, at the same time, fossil fuel reserves are decreasing, forcing the world to look for alternative energy sources.

As we search for greener alternatives, one promising source of relatively limitless power remains the wind. Even when there is only a gentle breeze, wind turbines turn the kinetic energy of moving blades into electrical power.

While many wind farms are located on land, offshore wind farms are quickly increasingly in number. In fact, there currently exist over 162 offshore wind farms worldwide.

These water-based wind farms have many advantages over onshore wind farms, including greater wind consistency and less impact on land use. Additionally, the sea allows turbines to have larger blades, thus generating more electricity. 

While offshore wind farms offer hope for the future, these structures still come with challenges.

One of the most significant problems to maintaining these towering engineering marvels is the corrosive environment they are located in. There is no greater enemy than salt water

Any structures near salt water, even steel, face a losing battle against corrosion. Without routine inspections and maintenance, all artificial structures in the ocean would eventually crumble into the water.

So, how can utility professionals ensure offshore wind turbines are well maintained in the most efficient way possible?

The answer, of course, is drones. Let’s take a look at how they can make a difference.

Improved Safety While Inspecting Wind Turbines

In September of 2022, the world’s largest offshore wind farm became fully operational. Located approx. 89 km off the coast of England, the Hornsea 2 offshore wind farm has a capacity of 1.3 gigawatts. For scale, that’s enough electricity to power 1.4 million homes. 

The 165 offshore wind turbines that make up the Hornsea 2 wind farm are serviced by the Wind of Hope Service Operations Vessel. The boat holds up to 60 wind turbine technicians at a time. Now, imagine being 89 km off the coast and scaling one of the massive 167-meter-tall turbines to conduct an inspection.

Few people are willing to take on that sort of risk. And those who are willing must be paid handsomely.

Drones, on the other hand, can scale wind turbines with ease, regardless of height. And, they do it in a fraction of the time it takes someone to climb a turbine.

UAVs can approach from any angle, carry a wide range of payloads for RGB and thermal inspections, and capture every inch of the structure without ever putting a single person at risk of injury or death.

Increased Efficiencies

Without a doubt, inspecting wind turbines using traditional methods is time consuming. Sometimes, by the time people equip their safety gear, only a single wind turbine inspection can be completed each day. Even under the best of circumstances, inspecting an offshore wind farm becomes challenging, time consuming, and expensive.

And when you factor in the rapidly changing weather of the sea, it becomes an even more frustrating task.

Now, some innovators are looking to move from traditional methods to modern solutions.

Air6, an airborne robotics company, can inspect up to 120 wind turbines daily using an inspection vessel with several drones on board. The drones launch from onboard the ship, from which they are also controlled.

With a limited crew, an entire farm can be inspected in a single day without a single technician stepping off the boat.

On top of improved safety, just imagine the time & financial savings your company could also achieve through drones.

Green energy industry examples. A photo of a series of solar panels with large wind turbines in the background
Related:Key Uses of Drones in the Green Energy Sector (click image to learn more)

Drones Reduce Expenses of Offshore Wind Farms

Lasers, artificial intelligence, and advances in autonomous flight make drones ideal for offshore wind farm inspections. And, as if safety and greater efficiencies weren’t enough advantages, drones also cost less.

Looking back at the Hornsea 2 wind farm, consider the cost of the support vessel.

The Wind of Hope vessel is essentially a small city. In addition to sleeping quarters and dining facilities, the ship also includes a gym, hospital, and movie theater.

Now, consider the total number of people on board, including the crew and up to 60 wind turbine technicians. That’s a lot of food and necessities each day, plus the wages for everyone involved. 

Drones on a ship like Air6’s vessel operate with a fraction of the people needed for traditional wind farm inspections. That’s a substantial cost saving every day.

But, better inspection methods aren’t the only way drones help lower costs.

There are also efforts to use drones to lower the cost of delivering parts and supplies to offshore farms. Orsted, Siemens Gamesa, and Esvagt have teamed up to develop drones that can carry parts from service ships to technicians working on turbines.

Eventually, such drones may eliminate the need for vessels to return to shore for parts, saving even more money.

The Takeaways

The potential benefit of offshore wind farms are enormous.

One day, we may all find that most of our power comes from green sources such as solar and wind.

But, keeping structures like wind turbines functioning as the ocean tries to break them down is no easy task.

With drones, inspections become safer, more efficient, and cost less. The benefits of UAVs used for this type of inspection are simply too good to ignore.

So, are you ready to incorporate drones into your organization? If so, how do you get started? Do you hire out or bring your drone program in-house?

At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.

Ready to learn more? Just complete the form below to schedule a risk-free consultation!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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