Offshore wind farms are an invaluable source of energy. These facilities and the individuals who operate them rely on a variety of support vessels. As defined by the American Bureau of Shipping, wind farm support vessels are designed for maintenance and repair duties that keep “offshore wind turbines/towers” in operation. They also transport personnel and cargo to and from the wind farm and shore-based facilities. The personnel they transport may include plumbers, electricians, welders, construction workers, engineers, technicians, and other professionals who work on wind farms.
The remainder of this article goes over several of the most prominent types of wind farm support vessels, covering basic facts about each and describing their varied roles.
Wind Turbine Installation Vessels
As their name suggests, wind turbine installation vessels are used to install new wind turbines. One notable example of this type of ship is the Pacific Orca, which has been described by Ship Technology as a “heavy-lift jack-up vessel.” This is a huge ship with more than 43,000 square feet in “usable deck area.” It features two powerful cranes, and it can carry and install a dozen wind turbine generators per outing.
Because they operate in windy areas, wind farm support vessels need to be able to withstand rough seas and strong winds. The Pacific Orca is no exception, able to withstand waves more than eight feet in height and winds that blow at more than 65 feet per second.
Crew Transfer Vessels
Crew transfer vessels are involved in taking personnel to and from wind farms. According to 4C Offshore, these are specialized vessels that transport people on a “daily basis.” They are designed for speed and efficiency. Commonly, crew transfer vessels are catamarans made of aluminum, which can carry 12 passengers at a time. Though these are utilitarian ships, they are also designed for comfort: Technicians need to be at their best when they arrive at a wind farm. Seats, for instance, are often surprisingly comfortable aboard these vessels.
Some crew transfer vessels have a mechanism that creates a bridge from the vessel to wind turbines. This is known as a “walk-to-work” system.
Cables play an important role in the operation of wind farms, necessitating the use of cable-laying vessels, which are designed for the express purpose of installing cable underwater. These ships may also serve an auxiliary research function by monitoring ocean conditions, according to Marine Insight. The size of these vessels varies, but the deeper the water, the bigger the vessel tends to be. (They are generally quite large, however.)
Cable-laying vessels use advanced navigation systems to ensure that they lay cables in the correct location. Along with gear for installing cables, cable-laying vessels also carry tools for repairing damage to cables.
Service Operation Vessels
Last but not least, service operation vessels handle a variety of functions, serving as general-purpose working ships. Take, for example, the Wind of Change, a service operation vessel that has been covered by 4C Offshore. The Wind of Change services several wind farms located off the coast of Germany. At a minimum, it can accommodate 60 technicians along with its crew. When the weather is favorable, it uses a daughter craft to transfer technicians to wind turbines. When conditions are worse, it uses an advanced gangway. To keep the individuals aboard comfortable, the ship features a cinema room, a gym, and individual cabins.
Some service operation vessels feature powerful cranes, and many are designed with energy-efficient propulsion systems. Another key feature is ample deck space, which creates a large, useful platform for both storage and work areas.