A lack of qualified blade repair technicians and an absence of recognised training standards is threatening to undermine both the efficiency of long-term operations and maintenance (O&M) programmes in the UK offshore wind market and the standing of UK service providers in the wider European and global sectors.
This is the warning to the industry from Altitec, a specialist in blade access, inspection and repair services with a dedicated, industry-certified training arm known as the Altitec Academy.
As a growing number of projects in the UK offshore market enter long-term operational service and large Round 3 sites are readied for construction in the near future, the UK supply chain must take the opportunity to prepare for a significant growth in demand for specialist personnel with the provision of targeted training opportunities.
In particular, UK providers of the essential maintenance services required to keep project downtime to a minimum – including blade inspection and repair – urgently need to increase the scope of training programmes and the rate at which new technicians are trained in order to cater for this demand.
Blade damage is one of the leading causes of downtime across the on and offshore wind energy sectors.
Due to weather constraints, particularly in the offshore sector, repair ‘windows’ are limited and it is crucial that both scheduled maintenance and urgent repair work is conducted effectively and on schedule in order to avoid a longer-term financial impact on the balance sheet.
While time and cost-saving foundation-based inspection techniques are being explored on offshore sites, highly-trained and experienced blade repair technicians still offer the only reliable means of ensuring that issues are identified and swiftly resolved.
Unfortunately, in the UK sector, these technicians are not currently being trained at a rate that is proportional to growing demand.
Consequently, the industry is at risk of a long-term skills shortage that may adversely impact both the quality and availability of blade inspection and repair services and affect opportunities for UK-based firms to become established offshore wind maintenance providers.
This emerging skills gap is exacerbated by a current lack of widely recognised higher-level training standards for blade technicians. While the RenewableUK BRAI (blade repair and inspection) standard was introduced in 2014 and currently forms the basis for early-stage training courses, as delivered by the Altitec Academy, no internationally-recognised standard is currently available for the more advanced training qualifications required to prepare technicians for the demands of servicing blades at height offshore.
Tom Dyffort, Managing Director, Altitec Group, said: “Via our Altitec Academy training courses, we’re currently able to train up to 150 blade inspectors and repair technicians each year.
“However it’s unrealistic to think that we’re anywhere near plugging the skills gap for blade repair and inspection in UK offshore wind – particularly since specialist, on-site training can take up to 25 weeks to complete.
“It’s important that the issue receives greater attention and high-level support when it comes to developing recognised standards and creating industry-wide best practice.”
For example, Altitec is currently working on a retained contract providing blade inspection and repair services at E.ON’s Scroby Sands offshore wind turbine parc off the east coast of the UK, deploying the latest rope access technology and blade inspection techniques to minimise inspection times on the project.
The specialist training its technicians have received, as well as the use of advanced rope access technology such as the ActSafe Ascender, has so far cut blade maintenance times by around 30%.