Wind farm boss reflects on last four years and looks to future

Stephen Rose, SSE head of offshore wind generation

Stephen Rose, SSE head of offshore wind generation - Credit: Archant

The man tasked with ensuring the smooth operation of a £1.6bn windfarm off the Suffolk coast has explained the challenges of overseeing 140 turbines capable of powering half-a-million homes and the contractual “crossroads” his firm faces next year.

Greater Gabbard aerial

Greater Gabbard aerial - Credit: Archant

Stephen Rose, head of offshore wind generation for the Greater Gabbard array, located 23km off Sizewell, revealed that the firm responsible for day-to-day operations had “learned a great deal” since the first turbines began supplying the national grid in January 2011.

Construction began on what was the world’s largest offshore wind farm in 2008. The joint venture between Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) and RWE Innogy has since created a hundred permanent jobs at its £1.5m operations and maintenance base in Lowestoft.

The 504 megawatt (MW) site was to be the furthest wind farm site from shore – roughly two-and-a-half hours by boat – and would be the first in the UK to use a helicopter for its daily service needs.

Mr Rose said: “We’ve had to be open minded, think flexibly, be prepared to modify plans and vary our approach to service and operation at regular intervals.

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“We learned that the weather and marine environment can vary dramatically across a vast 147sq km site. We also soon discovered that having a control room that operated for only 12 hours a day limited our ability to respond to turbine resets and therefore plan effectively for the next working day in the event of any interventions being necessary. These challenges led us to extend our control room hours and change some of our seagoing vessels in order to have the relevant capabilities to safely access the offshore turbines in rougher weather conditions.”

As warranty agreements with manufacture Siemens draw to a close, Greater Gabbard’s owners will soon have to choose between servicing turbines itself, entering a contract with third party suppliers, or “sticking with the status quo”.

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The project’s first four apprentices are soon to return from a year at college, while additional technicians are being hired to inspect the turbines as they approach the end of their warranty.

Mr Rose said: “Looking back on almost seven years with SSE, I have witnessed Greater Gabbard flourish from an onshore construction site at its grid connection location in Leiston through to offshore turbine installation, commissioning, generation and onwards into the mobilisation and development of our fantastic operations and maintenance team.”

Mr Rose said the pioneering success of Greater Gabbard had prepared his team for its next offshore project off the north coast of Scotland.

RWE Innogy, meanwhile, continues to review viability of a new business case for Galloper wind farm – an extension to the Greater Gabbard project which was shelved last October when the firm said it was unable to meet finance deadlines after joint owner SSE pulled out.

The project, which had been expected to be completed in 2017, is now moving into the detailed design work phase, involving its supply chain partners and potential equity finance partners, with the aim of enabling onshore construction to begin before the end of the year.

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