Shining a light on solar power safety

The wind industry is doing a great job of creating safe operating conditions in a frequently hostile and dangerous environment. There have been incidents, to be sure, but in general wind has a great safety record compared to other power sectors.

In part, this may be because it is hard to take safety for granted when you are working on a wind turbine. Up high above the ground, surrounded by moving parts, it makes sense to put safety first. Not all renewable energy workers operate in the face of such clear risks.

Take solar panel installers, for instance. Solar PV has got to be one of the safest forms of power generation you can imagine. It has no moving parts. It will not spill or burn. And if the sun isn’t shining it won’t even produce an electric current.

But that is not to say the sector is free from risk. In 2015, for example, a solar installer tragically died after falling through the roof of a barn in Preston, UK, while he was putting up panels.

His employer, Eco Generation, was fined £45,000 after it emerged the company had failed to provide vital safety equipment. “The court was told there were several measures Eco Generation could have taken to protect workers,” Installer Magazine reported.

As with many work-related incidents, it appears this was sadly a case of an accident that could have been avoided if the right safety culture had been in place.

There are many ways a business can improve safety, and one of the most basic, which will also help to improve business efficiency, is to have a smart tracking system in place so each technician goes to work with the right equipment, in the right condition.

The solar sector might seem like a low-risk industry, but as long as rooftops and high voltages are concerned it would pay to play it safe… and introduce the kinds of technologies that wind companies have been relying on for years.

Contact us now for more information about how to make your business a safer, more efficient place.

Floating wind: let’s not let safety sink

Last month was a momentous one for those of us who work alongside the renewables industry. The world’s first floating offshore wind farm began delivering electricity to the grid.

Located about 25 kilometres off the coast of Peterhead in Scotland, the Hywind Scotland project is not particularly far from shore. But floating turbine designers aim to go much, much further.

The whole point about floating foundations is they can be towed out to places where the water is too deep for existing bottom-attached structures. That extra distance means far more energy can now be harvested from the wind above the waves.

But it also means construction and operations teams must travel further to get on site, and there is greater distance to travel in the event of an incident.

So while the advent of floating offshore wind is great news for the industry, it also means project owners will need to revisit safety protocols and procedures.

As part of this, it will be vital to make sure all personal protective equipment (PPE) is properly maintained and checked.

Many offshore wind operators are already switching from manual inspection tracking methods to smart PPE management systems such as Papertrail.

It’s a move that not only improves safety, but also boosts efficiency and reduces costs, both of which are important considerations in the ongoing struggle to cut the levelised cost of energy for offshore wind.

Recent developments might mean it is a good idea to float the idea at your company, too.

Find out how one offshore wind contractor is maintaining an unblemished safety record with help from Papertrail.

Welcome to the wind farm technician’s worst hour

It’s a pretty thankless task, saving the world. Those massive wind turbines turning far out to sea need careful nurturing as they fight global warming and bring down the cost of energy.

To look after these gigantic machines, technicians must rise with the first light and prepare meticulously for the day ahead.

Each technician travels many hours a day, from home to a distant port and then out into the vast ocean, enduring drizzle, cold and wind. Then they climb into the belly of an air-slicing monster and scale hundreds of feet into the grey North Sea sky.

There they must stay alert for the tiniest details, like the hairline crack that gives away a budding blade failure or the flicker on a boroscope that signals a gearbox in trouble.

The work must be done carefully but fast: fading light, changing tide, wind picking up, a storm front moving in, can all add to the pressure to work as quickly as possible.

Still, though, every observation must be meticulously noted down, because tomorrow another technician could be climbing these same rungs and looking for the same hairline crack. Then it’s back to the vessel and the long, cold trip back to port.

All the technician wants to do now is get home, to a warm supper. They can’t, though. Instead, they must go to the office and log every note, every incident, every update, into the system, so tomorrow’s crews know where to go and what to look for.

That final hour, cursing as numb fingers make mistakes and numb neurons search for details, is the offshore wind farm technician’s worst. But it need not be so.

With Papertrail, the nightmare hour ceases to exist, because everything they do can be logged as they work. A crack on a blade? Save the photo on Papertrail. A check that a safety hatch is in working order? Add it to Papertrail. A missing harness? Notify it on Papertrail.

Then, as soon as the technician comes within reach of a mobile or Wi-Fi network, the notes on their mobile device flow seamlessly onto the system. So the technician steps off the vessel, waves goodbye, and heads home to get a good night’s rest before the next day.

 Working in renewables? Find out more about how Papertrail can make your life easier.

Britain’s going green. Let’s make sure it does so safely.

We live in exciting times for the energy industry. A shift to clean power is taking hold around the world. And one of the best examples in recent months has been the UK.

The country that spawned the industrial revolution, and with it a growing global appetite for coal, has moved into renewables in a big way. In April, the UK went without coal for an entire day, for the first time since around 1882.

This was after coal’s contribution to the UK energy system dropped to just 9% in 2016, compared to 23% in 2015. By 2025, coal is expected to have been phased out of the system altogether.

And this month the National Grid reported that renewable energy (meaning wind, solar, hydro and biomass) had for the first time in the modern era provided more than half of UK electricity supplies.

“For the first time ever this lunchtime wind, nuclear and solar were all generating more than both gas and coal combined,” National Grid said.

For anyone who is concerned about man-made climate change, this is great news. And the inexorable rise of renewables is good for jobs, too.

Not only do clean-energy industries create high-value employment, but the work is safe: wind engineers are more than 660 times less likely to suffer a fatal accident than people working in the coal industry, for example.

Most of this difference comes from the hazardous nature of coal mining, though. Let’s not kid ourselves: working on a turbine nacelle at 80 metres above ground is hardly a cakewalk. One slip could be fatal.

And the risks are even higher in the offshore wind farms that industry attention is shifting to. To maintain its well-earned reputation for safety, the renewables sector must work harder than ever to make sure things don’t go wrong.

That means checking, double-checking and triple-checking equipment. Making sure everyone is trained up to the highest standard. Confirming all components have the right certifications and quality stamps. And keeping records of the whole lot.

As the need to focus on workplace safety gets ever more key, storing records on Excel spreadsheets or bits of paper is no longer really an option.

If an engineer needs to confirm that a harness has passed its latest safety check, and they are in a ship in the North Sea, having a record back in the office just won’t cut it. Thankfully, there are smarter ways to do things now. The industry just needs to adopt them, fast.

Wind energy: why bigger offshore turbines will need firms to be smart when it comes to inspections

 

innogy-photo

Imagine hanging off a rope to inspect a structure that’s as high as the Eiffel Tower. Now imagine the structure is packed with moving parts, some too large to fit in a soccer field, and is in the middle of the North Sea, where working conditions are rarely ideal.

That’s the environment facing engineers with the upcoming generation of offshore wind turbines.

As reported in Bloomberg, offshore wind turbines, already among the largest machines on the planet, are due to almost double in power by the middle of the next decade.

The quest for size is driven by cost: since wind power is proportional to the square of blade length, each increment in turbine span can harvest significantly more energy per machine.

That’s great news for developers, since having fewer, larger machines means you needn’t spend so much on things like subsea cabling. The cost reductions this can yield have even allowed German developers to starting planning wind farms that will not need subsidies.

But it means wind farm operators and construction companies will need to think hard about how they optimise inspections, on three accounts. The first is the sheer size and complexity of the turbines we will soon be seeing at sea.

The coming generation of turbines won’t only be the largest ever, but also the most technologically advanced. Most of their technology, from sensors to supervisory control and data acquisition systems, will be designed to make sure nothing goes wrong.

However, there will always be things that only a human can spot or fix. And keeping track of the status of thousands of components is challenging even for a human, so having a simple means of logging and accessing reports will be essential.

The second consideration is that larger turbines are much costlier to stop and fix. At full pelt, one of the planned 15-megawatt offshore machines could provide enough electricity to power almost 14,000 homes, or an entire town the size of Whitby.

Losing that amount of production, for any length of time, would be financially crippling. So, the onus is on inspection teams to make sure nothing is missed in those rare moments when a turbine can be permitted to stop for scheduled maintenance.

And third, there’s the safety angle. The wind industry has an enviable track record in keeping work-related accidents to a minimum, but exposing workers to bigger machines further offshore naturally increases the risk.

Hence, when it comes to inspections it’s not just the turbines that will need careful attention and meticulous tracking. It’s also the ropes, personal protective equipment and other materials the engineers will rely on. Having a good tracking system could save lives.

Renewables – an industry where time is money…

windfarmThose acquainted with wind power know that operating turbines is in fact dependent on split-second reactions and rapid responses to changing conditions. This requirement for operational flexibility has grown as the renewables energy industry has sought to bring down operations and maintenance (O&M) costs and thereby reduce the levelised cost of wind energy (LCOE).

The move from reactive to preventive or even predictive maintenance regimes, which have been shown to cut costs by 24% and 47% respectively, has forced wind farm operators to embrace new data-driven technologies and processes that improve efficiency.

Mastering the rapid exchange of detailed, accurate turbine operations data is critical for improving power output, reducing downtime and delivering meaningful management reports, all of which can have a very significant impact on wind farm profitability.
Read more in the Papertrail white paper…

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