Could ‘small data’ help cut offshore wind costs?

Talk of ‘big data’ is all the rage in the wind industry. The ability to crunch massive amounts of turbine data in near-real time is seen as a key way to help cut costs, particularly in operations and maintenance.

Offshore Wind Magazine, for instance, says “big data has a large role to play in areas such as turbine design, monitoring and maintenance.”

This is undoubtedly true. The problem for wind farm operators is that big data systems are complex and expensive. And sometimes it can be hard to see if the financial benefits they will yield are worth the investment.

Not all wind farm data requires a big number-crunching approach, though. Take equipment inspection records, for instance.

The mere act of using a platform such as Papertrail to track this data can yield significant benefits in terms of operational efficiency, cost reduction and worker safety.

And since it is delivered from the cloud in a software-as-a-service package, it couldn’t be easier to set up and use. It’s big data in terms of its capabilities and advantages, but decidedly ‘small data’ in terms of its drain on the business.

Papertrail is already being used to great advantage across the offshore wind industry, by major project developers such as Innogy Renewables UK and specialist contractors such as Offshore Painting Services.

Why not use this small data gem to help your renewables business run more safely, smoothly and cost-effectively, too?

Contact us now for more information about how to make your organisation safer and more efficient.

Welsh and proud of it

Papertrail is a global company, with customers stretching from North America to Australia. We pride ourselves on offering a platform that is available anywhere, anytime. So, clearly, we are not overly preoccupied with geography.

That said, we originated in Wales and still value our Welsh heritage. Wales, after all, has a long tradition of innovation. Its mining and metallurgical industries helped to power the industrial revolution.

The country later reinvented itself as a haven for light industry and services, and in 2008 became the first nation in the world to be awarded Fairtrade Status.

More recently, Wales has also focused on the sustainable exploitation of natural resources, with activities ranging from offshore wind farm development to outdoor leisure activities.

Today, Wales is the third-best recycling nation in the world and 43% of its electricity comes from renewables.

This environmental focus, coupled with the relative strength of the Welsh rural economy, made Wales the perfect birthplace for a personal protective equipment (PPE) innovator such as Papertrail.

We have grown up with a keen appreciation of the challenges faced by outdoor workers and we have baked that know-how into our platform: Papertrail was designed from the ground up to be easy to use in the field.

And this ethos seems to be working well with local customers. Notwithstanding our global client base, some of our biggest users are based in Wales. We serve renewable energy companies, public sector bodies and PPE providers across the country.

Take DMM, for example. DMM’s carabiners, ropes, pulleys and other PPE products are sought after by outdoor enthusiasts and working-at-height firms alike. But keeping records of the life history of each item can be an onerous process.

We are both leaders in our fields, with a reputation for quality and customer service. Now Papertrail helps DMM’s large corporate customers save up to around GBP£50,000 a year.

It’s a similar story with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. The hospital group has locations all around our Conwy head office.

But it’s not the location that counts, so much as a spirit of innovation that has seen the Health Board use Papertrail as a key tool in improving operating theatre safety. We are pleased to be part of its success.

Speaking of innovation, perhaps nothing beats the technology operating out to sea at Gwynt y Môr. Offshore wind energy barely existed a decade ago, yet today it is helping to power thousands of Welsh homes… with a little help from Papertrail.

Thanks to our platform, says Justin Grimwade, business information manager at Gwynt y Môr’s owner, Innogy Renewables UK, “we are able to improve our health and safety posture by streamlining processes and information.”

As an innovative business, we’re obviously glad to see any organisation using our platform in new ways like this. As a Welsh company, though, we’re particularly delighted to see our country leading the way.

Contact us now for more information about how to make your business safer and more efficient, no matter where you are.

Could greener energy yield a ‘safety dividend’?

The UK energy system ended last year on a high note. According to the National Grid, 2017 was the greenest year ever for electricity in the country. Renewable energy sources provided more power than coal for around 90% of the year.

This is clearly great news for those concerned about climate change. But increasing the UK’s reliance on renewable energy may have another, less obvious advantage, linked to safety.

Coal, oil and gas are all hard to get out of the ground. They can catch fire or explode when handled. And they are major sources of air pollution. This all means they can have a significant impact on health.

Coal, for instance, is thought to cause 100,000 deaths per trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is about the amount that Russia consumed in 2014. For the same amount of electricity, oil kills around 36,000 people. Natural gas results in 4,000 deaths.

The death rates from renewable energy, meanwhile, are comparatively small. Rooftop solar panels, which are made in pristine lab conditions and have practically no pollution or maintenance risks during operation, have a mortality rate of 440 per trillion kilowatt-hours.

Wind power is even safer, with a mortality rate of just 150 per trillion kilowatt-hours. Naturally, these figures should not discourage renewable energy companies from striving to improve safety.

But it is also clear that simply switching from fossil fuels to wind and solar could cut energy sector-related deaths by two or three orders of magnitude, which is a major achievement.

The key, of course, will be for the wind and solar industries to maintain or improve their safety records wherever possible. This won’t happen automatically.

On the contrary, even though wind and solar are inherently safer than coal, oil or gas, the fact that renewable energy sectors are growing rapidly means special emphasis needs to be placed on keeping safety standards high while scaling up production.

Part of this will need to be through improved training and policies. Part of it will be through the application of technologies ranging from drone-based inspections to personal protective safety equipment management systems, such as Papertrail.

Provided renewables firms make sure this remains a priority, the move to clean energy could deliver a safety dividend as well as better deal on climate.

Contact us now for more information about how to make your wind business safer.

Elevating wind turbine lift maintenance

Could smart tracking systems give wind turbine elevator maintenance a lift? This might seem like a trivial question, but it’s not. Lift availability is an important health and safety topic for the wind industry. And on reflection, it’s hardly surprising.

In 2015, according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the average hub height for offshore wind turbines was around 90 metres, which is about as tall as the Statue of Liberty (or a bit shorter than Big Ben, for readers this side of the pond).

As you can imagine, having to climb up stairs this height is an exhausting affair, particularly within the confines of a turbine tower. That is why turbine towers come equipped with lifts.

According to a G+ Global Offshore Wind report from March 2017, “lifts are ‘usually available’; however, where unavailability occurs it can have a dramatic impact upon work packages, and its effects can be chronic both for physical health and morale.”

Clearly, if a lift isn’t working then it would be pointless and possibly dangerous to try to use it. But lifts aren’t always unavailable because of a fault. G+ says: “Another common reason for unavailability is the lift being overdue for its statutory inspection.”

With the availability of platforms such as Papertrail, specifically designed to track inspections, it seems remarkable that wind farm operators could hamper productivity and compromise health and safety because of an inspection oversight.

And let’s be clear about the risks here. Says G+: “The impact of climbing activities on health, safety and well-being is considered to be significant, and effects can be direct or indirect. Direct effects include immediate and delayed musculoskeletal strain.

“Issues have included several older technicians suffering from knee muscle strain and pain and these effects have been reported on incident/injury forms.”

It is important to stress that offshore wind technicians work in environments where every care is usually taken to ensure health and safety.

In 2016, for example, there were only nine emergency response or medical evacuation incidents in the whole of the UK offshore sector. Everyone in the industry will be hoping to keep this level as low as possible.

All we are saying is that, in this day and age, missing lift inspections shouldn’t be a factor.

Contact us now for more information about how to make your renewable energy business safer and more efficient.

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



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…