In this Opinion piece, Peter MacDonald, Head of Engineering, Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, takes a look at how insurers can manage wind farms more effectively, and use data to track problems and potential claims.
Thirty years ago, there was not a single megawatt of offshore wind capacity on the planet; now, there are more than 29GW installed globally, and offshore wind is seen as a vital clean energy source with which to tackle climate change and reduce our carbon footprint. The next 30 years will see an even more spectacular rate of expansion with 1,400GW credibly achievable by 2050.
Tomorrow’s cables will need to cope with more wind power and achieve reliability over longer distances, too, as operations push further and deeper offshore. Looking ahead to the future, we will also see the commercialisation of floating wind platforms using dynamic cables, more high-voltage direct current cables (HVDC), offshore hydrogen charging stations coming online, and the meshing all of these into the ‘Supergrid’ of the future.
Investors have not been slow to recognise the profitability ahead: as coal, oil and gas investment fell under the glare of COVID-19 as highlighted by McKinsey and others, renewables have continued to attract increasing volumes of finance. For the insurance industry, the potential of this market has long been recognised, but future confidence rests upon how fast and demonstrably our sector can de-risk rapidly evolving technologies. We need to help insurers build up good-quality data on risks, losses and trends in key areas for claims.
This is where we come to subsea cables and the oft-quoted figure that cable failures account for 75-80% of the total cost of offshore wind insurance claims. Technology innovation can and is tackling these cable failures. We have research projects underway with partners at the universities of Manchester and Strathclyde that are looking at alternative cable designs for minimising transmission loss over long distances and improving reliability. Our High-Voltage Laboratory is undertaking research into universal repair joints and self-healing materials for cables, as well as its day-to-day activity of carrying out failure investigations and testing new designs for failure before they enter the water.
However, innovation and system optimisation is being held back by the lack of good data and insight into how cable failures occur in the first place and where improvements should be targeted. Whether you talk to an insurer, operator, supplier or tech disruptor, the conversation is often the same: the increasing need for evidence towards cable failure trends and statistics.
DATA DRIVEN SOLUTION
That is why this spring, we are launching the ELECTRODE project with support from the Offshore Wind Innovation Hub (OWIH). ELECTRODE is an industry world-first database that will collect cable failure data anonymously while allowing trend analysis to develop. Based upon our successful SPARTA model, which is entrusted with operational data from 98% of the UK’s installed offshore wind capacity, ELECTRODE overcomes one of the biggest barriers to data-sharing concerns over data security.
We believe that this operator-backed system will quickly enable us to start identifying significant and recurring problems, which will bring an unprecedented level of transparency for insurers, as well as supporting the offshore wind industry’s own efforts to innovate ways around failures.
The crucial point is that we will capture inter-array faults across the whole cable system, including the terminations and joints, classifying the data as granularly as possible to cable type. Broader insight into fault location and failure rates will provide valuable and important data that could support condition monitoring tools and aid wind farm operations and maintenance decision-making on which monitoring equipment is best suited.
While our initial focus will be upon inter-array cable reliability, we plan to extend our scope to include export cables in the future. We are also only tracking data for fixed-bottom offshore wind sites, but dynamic cable failures will become an increasing focus as more floating offshore wind farms come online in the next few years. These moving cables carry unique challenges of their own, being subject to high mechanical loadings, swell and current, as well as the risk of wear due to friction or scraping.
Insurers: your offshore wind sector needs you!
Over the past few months, we have held a series of workshops with representatives drawn from across the offshore wind sector and some insurers to design how ELECTRODE will work (see the results in our first project report). The topics of most interest include the annual failure rate per kilometre of cable and failure rates per component, mean time between failures, the effectiveness of monitoring and repair approaches, and the use of new technologies in addressing failures.
We will continue to shape the data and presentation of outputs in line with feedback from our own sector, and we will greatly value requests and steer from insurance companies. It is essential that the trended data we provide helps insurers to assess subsea cable risk accurately and supports combined efforts by our two industries to manage subsea risks.
For example, we may find a recurring particular failure mode across wind farms that could trigger changes to policy terms and tighten up procedures for contractors. Depending upon the level of data leveraged on root causes, we can also channel this information throughout the supply chain, helping manufacturers make improvements at the design stage or identify impurities at the production stage.
How you can get involved
If you would like to be one of the first insurers to access the trended outcomes or if you would like to find how to collaborate with the ORE Catapult research team , you can contact us at ELECTRODE@ore.catapult.org.uk