Offshore Wind’s Contribution to Net-Zero Goals will Rely on Digital Technology

Offshore Wind’s Contribution to Net-Zero Goals will Rely on Digital Technology
The projects demonstrated the value of integrating digital twins to improve asset planning decision making. (Image credit: Lamprell)

Offshore wind is growing, but not quickly enough. While the industry is booming, it is currently not adding enough capacity to hit net-zero targets required to stave off the worst of climate change.

If we are to hit the International Energy Agency (IEA) target of net-zero global emissions by 2050, 80 GW must be built annually from now until 2050.

Nevertheless, the offshore wind industry has the potential to drive us to a clean energy future. According to the IEA, the sector could generate more than 18 times today's global electricity demand. Also, 2021 was a record year for the industry, with almost 21 GW of capacity added globally, up from 6.1 GW in 2020. However, it is essential to realize that anything achieved in the next five years will have an exponential knock-on effect in the subsequent two decades as improvements build upon each. So with more than 90% of offshore wind still to be built to meet the 2050 target, the industry must start adding capacity right now.

To reach net-zero targets, the offshore wind industry must overcome several significant barriers to growth. Firstly, the technology is still more expensive than other renewable energy sources, such as solar. Solar Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE) has decreased around four times as fast as offshore wind in the last decade, which has super-charged its adoption worldwide. Next, the permitting process for offshore wind is slow and over-regulated, taking up to eleven years to go from leasing to installation. Finally, wind turbines' sheer scale and weight keep costs high as vast amounts of expensive raw materials are required for construction. Unfortunately, the price of these raw materials is currently soaring.


One way the offshore wind industry can overcome its barriers to growth is by designing and building leaner, more effective structures that are cheaper and quicker to produce and use fewer raw materials. Recognizing this need, Akselos and Lamprell started a partnership to create a 'digital thread' for offshore wind structures. The intent was to use advanced modelling capabilities to develop significantly cheaper and leaner designs, which could then be fed with real-time data from wind structures during operations to monitor the state of the asset.

Two projects have already been completed as part of the partnership, leading to significant achievements demonstrating the potential for industry improvements. In the first project, Lamprell used Akselos' advanced engineering simulation technology to model a 14 MW jacket foundation weighing almost 2,000 tons.

Using the software, the team at Lamprell found they could reduce the weight of the jacket design by almost 250 tons while fulfilling the exact structural requirements. Instrumental to this optimization effort was the capability to analyze the entire foundation (the beams and joints of the jacket and the transition piece) in one single model at square cm level or even smaller.

These results are significant as, if applied globally, the industry could use almost 1.5 million tons of steel per year less, which is a CO2 reduction equivalent to taking more than half a million passenger cars off the road.


The second way offshore wind can overcome its barriers to growth is by using digital technology to improve operational efficiency. This was the focus of Akselos and Lamprell's second project, which aimed to demonstrate how engineering simulation software can give better visibility into the operations of offshore wind technology to improve performance.

In this project, Lamprell used Akselos' software to build a structural digital twin of a shore-based crane used for jacket assembly. Nineteen sensors were installed on the crane to calibrate and validate the structural model and its simulations. During the crane use, relevant data, such as loads, were directly fed into the digital twin to determine how they impacted structural performance. The project has three significant results:

  1. The digital twin was proven to yield accurate simulations at the highest level of detail (cm/mm level).
  2. More structural simulation power enabled significantly better integrity understanding and removed undue conservatism. Lamprell managed to lift 30% more weight than the design capacity, meaning the same crane can carry more weight and make more lifts.
  3. The speed and fidelity of the structural simulation enable a near real-time view of how structural life is consumed, allowing informed decisions on where to inspect/maintain/strengthen the structure.


Combined, the results of the two projects show how powerful simulation technology, alongside the ability to process data from the field in near real-time, can provide actionable information to help the offshore wind industry grow to reach net-zero targets. There is a huge opportunity to design leaner, more efficient structures to reduce costs, positively contributing to the energy transition. Moreover, if simulation technology can significantly reduce the weight of jacket foundations, there is likely room for improvements elsewhere. Engineers could also optimize additional wind turbine components—such as the tower and rotor blades.

The completed projects have demonstrated the value of embracing innovative technologies, such as digital twins, to understand assets better and make informed decisions. Looking further afield, the offshore wind industry could embrace other technology, such as drone technology, to scale even faster. The future of offshore wind is bright, and a bold change in mindset to embrace innovative technology can drive it to hit net-zero targets.

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To read the full article, which was featured in ON&T October 2022, click here.


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