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Power struggle

Offshore wind farms are a hot prospect for geotechnical growth but is the UK lacking the port facilities to take advantage? GE reports


The UK government has set some high targets when it comes to delivering power from renewable sources and the solution of choice seems to be wind power. It is impossible to drive anywhere in the UK without seeing evidence of this trend with forests of turbines growing on hillsides up and down the county.

Nonetheless, it is offshore wind farms that offer the real potential to meet the target of generating 33GW from renewable sources by 2020, with fewer Nimby objections and higher potential for providing power due to better wind conditions. But if these giants are to help meet growing power demands a growth in ports is needed to aid the construction phase while supporting the ongoing maintenance and replacement programmes that will surely follow.

The interest in this sector was clear at last year’s Geotechnique Lecture, delivered by University of Cambridge’s Dr Byron Byrne. During his lecture on the need for new foundation solutions for the turbines, Byrne outlined the challenges that government targets pose: “Around 800 wind turbines must be installed each year and a further 300 a year will need to be replaced.”

Aarsleff director Chris Primmet, who has been closely involved with development of the London Array, says: “There is a huge volume of wind turbines to be built under Round 3 and it will require UK ports to service them. Wind farms on the east coast could be serviced from the Netherlands and Scandinavia, although this could add to the costs, but ones to the west need UK port development to meet the demand.”

Current wind farm development is placing heavy demands on the UK ports already. Primmet says construction of the London Array is having to be carried out using several ports because the logistics are outside the capabilities of any one location.

“Over the next five to 10 years there ought to be major investment in new ports but there is no commitment from government on this,” says Primmet. “Lack of funding is holding up private investment. The ports have the land but not the money, so I imagine there will have to be some joint venturing to get the necessary development underway.

“Development planned by the government will call for more port facilities and we have seen a rise in demand for site investigations for developments in this sector.”

Steve Williams, Fugro Seacore

“Round 3 of the wind farm development planned by the government will call for more port facilities and we have seen a rise in demand for site investigations for developments in this sector,” says Fugro Seacore nearshore geotechnical manager Steve Williams.

Fugro recently undertook a site investigation for Able Marine near Hull on the south side of the Humber. “It is a greenfield site, which will hopefully become the Able Energy Park, featuring a large lay down area for wind turbines, plus factories and repair workshops, as well as special berthing facilities,” he says.

The investigation comprised boreholes and CPT for the new harbour wall and infill area and marine investigations for the dredging channel and turning areas. The £1M package of work started on site in April last year and was completed in November, but the report is still being worked on.

“Current port facilities in the UK are not suitable to meet the demands of deep water offshore wind farm construction as these schemes demand a large volume of land for ports as well as high-capacity cranes for lifting equipment onto the specialist boats and maintenance facilities too,” says Williams.

“There is a huge potential for growth in port development in the UK in terms of new facilities and remodelling of existing ports,” he adds.

There is a huge opportunity for the site investigation sector in ports, according to Williams and he believes that Seacore is well positioned to benefit from this. “It is not just a case of putting land-based rigs on a jack-up barge to carry out the work,” he says. “It is important to understand the limitations that working with the tides place on the work in terms of shifts, supply logistics and emergency evacuation even at low tide, not to mention the impact of currents on the work. The depth of silt can vary greatly too, so there is no generic solution to site investigation in these conditions.”

While the potential for wind farm development to drive geotechnical growth in terms of offshore investigation and piling work has been clear, there also appear to be good opportunities for increased demand in the port development sector too.

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