Servicing wind farms
Wind turbines are largely seen as having a dangerous relationship with the fixed-wing community in Canada, because the country’s available landmass allows for placing these farms on the ground, as opposed to the many offshore energy projects in Europe.
The placement of wind turbines became mainstream news in 2014 when protests erupted around a plan to place a farm along the flight path of Collingwood Regional Airport.
Local politicians, who had lost autonomy over the placement of wind farms through the Green Energy Act, argued, that because of the obvious safety concerns, the proposed 125-metre wind turbines put the airport’s own multimillion-dollar plans to develop business in jeopardy – if not the entire airport’s future. By late-2017, the controversial wind turbine project was cancelled.
Rotary-wing aircraft, of course, face the same fixed-wing dangers of wind-turbine obstructions near regional airports and aerodromes, but there is also a positive, growing relationship between the helicopter world and offshore wind turbines, which rotorcraft are perfectly suited to service. Helicopter operations continue to gain such multi-million contracts in Europe and in January 2018 the Government of Canada initiated its own process to create offshore wind farms, primarily in the region of western Newfoundland.
Airbus Helicopters in September 2018, just days before it was to participate in WindEnergy Expo in Hamburg, Germany, released a statement estimating the needed support for wind farms will create a demand for up to a thousand helicopters over the coming two decades. The company states this demand corresponds to revenues of approximately €9 billion ($13.6 billion).
“Helicopters are an integral part of any logistics concept for offshore wind farms,” said Dennis Bernitz, head of Western Europe Sales. “Helicopters can be used to deploy technicians or medical personnel in emergencies, even in rough seas, and can also transport operating personnel between the shore and the wind farm.”
Airbus explains with turbine output rising, leading to a higher rate of electricity production, wind farm operators need an efficient, rapid-response logistics system, relying on high availability, to keep losses to a minimum should a malfunction occur. At the same time, wind farms are being built further and further from the shore. A helicopter can cover 40 nautical miles (approximately 74 km) in 20 minutes, explains Airbus, meaning it can reach the site and return to shore faster than a transport vessel.
Airbus has developed a logistics calculator for wind farm operators, which takes into account all relevant factors – weather, location and the number of turbines in the wind farm – to determine the most economical logistics solution, which includes options on the mix of transport and special-purpose vessels. The wind farm companies do not usually purchase the means of transport themselves, of course, but lease the services from operators. Airbus Helicopters’ new H160 model is well suited for these offshore operations, based on the existing use of H135, H145 and H175 rotorcraft for crew transport, maintenance and rescue missions.
Canadian helicopter operations can now pay more attention to this growing business segment following the January 2018 launch by Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Jim Carr, of a $200 million expression of interest for the Emerging Renewable Power Program. This funding is part of the government’s planned investment of $21.9 billion over 11 years to support green infrastructure under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth – targeting tidal, geothermal and offshore wind projects.
In October 2016, Beothuk Energy agreed to a partnership with one of the world’s largest offshore wind investors, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, to develop offshore wind farms in Atlantic Canada. A report by Natural Resources Canada (NRC) quotes Kirby Mercer, chairman and CEO of Beothuk Energy: “The future for offshore wind energy is now. There will be a major shift in five to 10 years with a lot of oil and gas companies buying offshore wind and renewables. It’s a New Age business.”
Through Beothuk, NRC explains Kirby is developing a $1 billion offshore wind farm in western Newfoundland – because of its constant wind and shallow water – to help meet increasing demand for clean energy in Atlantic Canada and the Eastern United States. NRC explains the eastern United States expects approximately 86 Gigawatts in offshore wind by 2050 and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to deliver it.