A day at sea: the energy behind the energy
In offshore wind, few things are constant. However, one thing that is, is that everyone in the industry always – without fail - has an opinion on how the market is shaping up.
They’ll tell you how you can cut costs, how you can create greater efficiencies, how you can streamline project management or how you can use new and existing kit more effectively to drive future progress.
But just how many of these folk have actually headed out offshore? How many people have actually seen these assets – whether in construction or operation – with their own eyes?
My sense is that the true number of people stepping onto vessels and visiting sites first hand is far fewer than you might think. And that, when you consider just how much of an impact these projects are starting to have on European energy supply, is pretty incredible.
So it was with this in mind that I jumped at the chance to spend a day with Ian Baylis and his team as they undertook operations on a series of projects located off the North East coast of the UK.
Baylis, managing director of Seacat Services, owns and operates a fleet of DNV-class-certified crew transfer vessels currently engaged on a multitude of European projects.
By way of full disclosure, I should also say that Seacat Services is a retained client of our sister business, Tamarindo Communications, a specialist PR, media and communications firm. Joining Seacat for the day was therefore a real privilege and provided a genuine, unfiltered insight into the daily duties of this largely unseen area of the energy generation industry.
Duties for each of the vessels varies from site to site and naturally, since they work directly with the construction teams, they benefit from direct access to projects at all stages of development. One day a vessel might be ferrying passengers from site to shore – while on another it’s being used as an equipment pack horse – shifting parts and spares around the vastness of the site. Either way, what’s common across all charters is that in undertaking this vital support work, Baylis and his team see all aspects of each and every project as they move through the construction cycle – from start to finish - warts and all.
That requires excellent levels of communication, organisation and above all else, discretion.
Heading out of Grimsby Fish Dock in the early morning mist and entering the Humber Estuary, the vessel charted a course for the day ahead. The plan was to head out past at least three major wind farms, and ending the day in Great Yarmouth, where the vessel was scheduled to undertake routine servicing and maintenance following the completion of its most recent 24/7, multi-month charter.
That, for me, meant a day that promised to offer up a brief history lesson on the development of offshore wind – and perhaps, most pertinently, a reminder of just how far this most dynamic of emerging energy markets has really come.
So what is it like to be on one of these fast transit crew transfer vessels for the day?
First off, it’s surprisingly quiet and comfortable! Capable of carrying up to 16 technicians and a crew of three, there’s plenty of space for everyone on board – and always plenty of stuff going on.
Second, it’s only when you’re actually out at sea that you start to develop a true sense of the sheer size and scale of the operations and the vastness of it all. The distances covered from one project to another are significant and the sites themselves stretch out as far as the eye can see. Indeed, when you’re right in the centre of a site, it’s not unlike walking silently through a vast mechanical forest, with turbines surrounding you on all sides, moving silently and monotonously in the wind.
And third and finally, in spite of all this – and in spite of the fact that one minute you’ll be in the thickest possible fog patches and the next you’ll be in brightest of sunshine, looking out across a mirror like sea, you are continually reminded of the huge number of people that are working in this industry and making it all possible.
Indeed, at one particular juncture we passed a major accommodation structure, converted from its days spent servicing the oil and gas markets and that’s now capable of housing up to 100+ technicians for literally months at a time.
When we passed it, it loomed large out of the mist, its huge lattice legs pointing upwards to the sky. Looking across at the structure, you could make out people, lots of them, standing out on the various levels and decks. It was quite a sight.
Quite apart from sheer potential that this market offers from a future energy generation standpoint, it was this image - and that real time sense of just how many people were and are working to make all of this happen - that struck me the most.
It also reminded me that, while it’s easy for anyone to offer an opinion on how the market is shaping up, it’s really only those working out there on site, every day of the week, that can truly convey the energy – in every sense of the word – that really drives this market forwards.