Offshore Wind Farms : How to walk to work


Diederick Nierstrasz, Offshore Wind Product Development Manager


Friso Talsma, Manager Sales & Business Development Oil & Gas and Offshore Wind Europe

Commuting to wind turbines has never been safer – and the world is taking notice. In a short timeframe, technological advancements have improved the efficiency, profitability and safety of wind-powered offshore operations. Just ten years ago, if you worked on a wind turbine, the idea of ‘walking to work’ would have been unrealistic. Ampelmann is a pioneer in the field and has revolutionized offshore operations and for some, their daily commute.

Ampelmann’s ambition to ‘make offshore access as easy as crossing the street’ was conceived just 16 years ago. Since its flagship commercial operation was successfully completed in 2008, the service has expanded and gone global, transporting more than 4 million people and over 8 million kilograms of cargo across 240 projects globally. The company’s fleet provides a cost-efficient solution to support installation, maintenance, upgrading and life extension for offshore wind, oil and gas platforms and (aging) production facilities, as far as 30 miles offshore.

“We bring people from vessels to platforms or turbines in a totally unique way – providing tailored solutions and services often in extremely difficult conditions. We achieve this, and effectively extend the ‘weather window’, by means of our gangways and smart motion compensating systems,” says Friso Talsma, Manager Sales & Business Development Europe Oil & Gas and Offshore Wind.

Traditional offshore transport

Offshore crews can face many challenges when attempting to reach coastal wind turbines, includingadverse weather conditions and choppy waters, which can be life-threatening. Traditional means of transport to wind turbines were, and still are, relatively unsafe, unreliable and expensive.

“One means of transport before is via helicopter, which is expensive. Another option is a ‘bump and jump’ solution, where a small boat would sail against a wind turbine and the people would jump to the platform at the right moment. This could only be safely conducted in benign weather conditions, limiting the window of maintenance access and resulting in the lower output of the park,” says Diederick Nierstrasz Offshore Wind Product Development Manager.

“We filled a gap by making a safer solution that is more cost-effective… with larger accommodation vessels and smarter technology to deal with the conditions,” says Nierstrasz.

Providing unique W2W solutions and services

Key to combatting these safety issues was addressing the relative motion of a vessel compared to a fixed ocean structure. ‘The old-fashioned systems in the market only passively compensate for the vessel’s motions, whereas we do so actively– also known as six degrees of freedom. We create a stable transfer deck and gangway, where you would stand still as the vessel moves underneath you. It’s definitely unique,” says Nierstrasz.

Not only is the solution unique in resolving relative motion difficulties but the safety precautions are equally impressive, according to Nierstrasz. “A lot of our technical developments have been making sure we have intrinsically safe systems. No matter what the failure is, the system will always remain functioning and ‘compensating’, so no unsafe situation can occur for the individual in transfer,” says Nierstrasz.

What adds to Ampelmann’s reliability as an offshore access provider is its commitment to providing clients with full support and service across the lifecycle of a project. Ampelmann has a fleet-wide technical uptime of 99.6%, which is the result of regular preventive maintenance checks performed by company personnel offshore and due to the redundancy of all Ampelmann critical system components. The operations control centre (OCC) is on standby 24/7 to provide support in the unlikely event that a system experiences a technical malfunction.

The Walk to Work vessels are now a common solution in the wind industry during warranty, maintenance and repair works and can even provide accommodation during platform upgrades, commissioning and maintenance works.

The future of offshore access

Although currently the majority of Ampelmann’s 60 strong fleet operates in North Europe, the growth potential for the industry is enormous, especially in more exotic locations such as Taiwan, according to Friso Talsma, Manager Sales & Business Development Europe Oil & Gas and Offshore Wind.

“We see subsidy-free bids now coming to life all across Europe. There is a really rapidly growing market with all the C02 emission reductions… and that’s just Europe. The rest of the world will follow… so the potential of the industry is enormous,” says Talsma. Alongside this industry expansion, Talsma envisions Ampelmann to improve the capacity of its revolutionary machines and eventually go electric.

“In the short run, we are looking to improve the cargo capacity of our systems andare already investing R&D to step away from diesel-driven hydraulic systems and go fully electric. That’s lower energy consumption, low emissions and bringing us in line with our industry goals and the offshore wind farms we proudly serve,” says Talsma.

As the commercial potential of wind energy continues to be realized, providing efficient solutions to production processes is key to harnessing the most out of this renewable resource.

“We just opened a commercial office together with operations in Hamburg that’s fully dedicated to offshore wind.,” says Talsma. As offshore wind farms continue to be supported with such key innovations, solutions and commitments, the future for wind energy looks bright.