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Why data matters in the race for offshore wind

Whether measuring geotechnical conditions, community sentiment, marine mammal populations or wind speeds – collecting, monitoring and analysing data underpins the development of an offshore wind industry that is operational in time to reach net zero targets.

28 June 2023
Anna Crameri

Asia Pacific

Australia

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Harnessing the knowledge of data

Data is knowledge and without it, you can’t make the kind of decisions needed to develop an offshore wind farm.

Is a certain location out at sea a commercially feasible place to build an offshore wind farm? Without capturing, measuring and analysing data, you wouldn’t know. Nor would you have the intel to inform design or configuration amendments that would minimise the impact of your farm on migrating whales or the local beach.

That’s why data forms a big part of RPS’ offshore wind work and, in particular, across these five service offerings:

Floating LiDAR buoys

1. Measuring the wind

Consultants in our Metocean Science and Technology team are like wind ‘whisperers’. They can tell developers the type of information that can propel a project or stop it before it’s begun.

This includes the strength, direction, and consistency of the wind at specific locations in the ocean. The team also measures meteorological and oceanographic data.

To better understand the conditions offshore, our consultants analyse data collected from our floating LiDAR buoys, which are moored at sea for between one to two years. These robust, huge buoys – two of which withstood Typhoon Maysak in 2020 – have been providing accurate wind data for a number of years and informing site selection, yield optimisation, design and engineering decisions and workplace safety.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of wind data when deciding to spend millions of dollars on a project that solely exists to utilise the wind.

2. Marine wildlife data

It’s a vast undertaking across multiple species and habitats to collect enough marine wildlife data to understand the impact of a wind farm made up of 100 or so wind turbines out at sea.

Our marine scientists conduct a range of surveys including benthic, fish, shorebird, seabird, whale and seal studies to paint a comprehensive picture of the environment in which offshore wind farms will inhabit. They use lasers, tagging, planes and boats to study behaviour, movements, feeding patterns, and migration patterns of marine species through different seasons.

These studies help determine fundamental design and engineering specifications for turbines and the broader project.  

For example, if you want to know the optimal distance from water surface to the tip of a turbine blade to minimise the impacts on seabirds – you need bird data. If you want to know if a farm will sit smack-bang in the path of migrating humpback whales you’ll need… well, you get the picture.

Humpback whale breach

3. Quantifying and qualifying community feedback

Offshore wind farms and their associated infrastructure cast a wide impact net – and that includes the ‘human’ element.

This includes the communities hugging the coastline as well as recreational groups, industries and government bodies who use the ocean. Then there are those who live and work in places where associated infrastructure will be built (transmission lines and ports, for example).

Our community engagement consultants help developers work effectively with affected communities, to understand their values and sentiments, and to find mutual benefits. Fierce community opposition can halt projects or even shelve them. So, getting reliable information – both quantitative and qualitative data – is critical.

Our consultants conduct surveys, speak to key stakeholder groups, hold community meetings, create online forums, and utilise population and demographic data to understand the public mood and identify opportunities and benefits that can flow from offshore wind developments.

4. Measuring coastal processes

Following on from community feedback – there is something coastal communities care deeply about, and that is their beaches. So do shorebirds, and all the other creatures that call the coastline their home.

Our coastal engineers run programs to ‘play out’ or model a range of scenarios to predict the impact of offshore wind farms. Questions like: What will be the impact of a 70-turbine farm versus a farm with 140 turbines? And do the impacts depend on the wind farm layout?

Using a range of techniques, the consultants gather and measure metocean conditions – which are atmospheric and oceanic parameters like wind, tidal, climate and currents. They provide models to show changes that are likely to occur without an offshore wind farm development to then compare with likely changes if one is built. And they use statistics to indicate the accuracy of their models.

This information and modelling provide another layer of information to inform site selection, environmental impact assessments, and design and engineering specifications.

Waves crashing on sandy beach along Gippsland coast, Victoria, Australia.

5. Geophysical and geotechnical data

And finally, we have our geophysical and geotechnical data.

Our experts liken this to x-raying the earth. They scan the seabed to identify hazards and provide detailed information about the seabed structure, so engineers can design the foundations and turbine locations so that the subsurface can hold the structures.

The ‘earth scan’ also details things like fault lines and existing pipelines running through a proposed offshore wind site. They can even uncover unexploded ordinances (UXO) sitting on the bottom of the ocean!

Bringing it all together

Offshore wind farms have enormous potential to help Australia reach net zero targets. But to proceed quickly, we need to proceed with care – care for the environment, care for an effective design and the many and varied stakeholders and marine and coastal inhabitants.

Knowledge is the best thing we have to ensure we proceed with minimal impacts and create an efficient, sustainable offshore industry – with robust, scientific data providing the basis of that knowledge.

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* This article is a summary of a masterclass presentation from Elevate - RPS’ internal offshore wind training program. More than 80 RPS consultants are participating in the 12-month course designed to meet client demand for offshore wind specialists. The program is also offered to RPS’ offshore clients.

Energy & Renewables - Offshore Wind Farm

RPS is always on the look out for talented people with offshore wind, marine infrastructure, or transmission line experience. We offer in-house training on offshore wind to get our consultants up to speed.

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