EDF has deployed a unique remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to carry out what it believes is the first autonomous wind farm foundation inspection at the Blyth scheme, off Northumberland.
The ROV was equipped and operated by researchers from the ORCA Hub – a strategic project led by Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh within the National Robotarium – and modified to include new technologies for autonomous inspection.
The ROV carried out visual inspections of the gravity-based foundations of three offshore turbines, located around half a mile off the coast of Blyth in Northumberland, over the course of four days.
The project is part of a partnership between EDF and ORCA to investigate new potential applications for drone technology in assessing offshore wind turbines.
These trials demonstrated the drone’s ability to work autonomously at the site, where it recorded videos to assess the exterior condition of turbine foundations and cables.
The drone was also used to create a 3D reconstruction model of parts of the underwater assets, which will be used to monitor biofouling, the accumulation of microorganisms, plants and algae on the turbine foundations.
Maxime Duchet, Offshore Wind Research Engineer at EDF R&D UK Centre, said the trial would greatly enhance the team’s ability to carry out operations and maintenance at offshore sites.
“Further tests are needed to estimate the time required to inspect all of the turbine foundations, and to demonstrate the full potential of marine robotic technology. However it is clear from these initial results that the technology can ensure safer and faster operations and a reduced carbon footprint,” Ms Duchet added.
Dr Sen Wang, lead of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at the National Robotarium, added: “By equipping the ROV with sensors and robot autonomy software developed by the ORCA Hub, we can obtain high-quality videos and build an extremely accurate 3D model of the turbine foundations, providing rich information in a more efficient manner for companies working in this sector.
“Due to their locations, offshore wind farms are costly and difficult to monitor and maintain with the industry currently facing a range of challenges such as cost, safety and operational logistics.
“The ORCA Hub can help its partners to overcome many of these challenges.”