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DAS Wind Cable Monitoring and the Future of Offshore Energy

Recently, Fotech’s blogs have been exploring the importance of Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) in monitoring precious oil, gas & water pipelines. It is a crucial consideration as we move through 2022 and see traditional global energy supply chains becoming increasingly volatile. But DAS fibre optic sensing also has an important role to play in safeguarding renewable power supplies, such as green hydrocarbon pipelines. Quite rightly, the conversation around renewable energy sources is becoming more urgent. Yet, whilst generation capacity is the headline, transmission is equally as important to ensure that vital renewables can be safely and efficiently supplied to the homes and businesses that need them. In the case of offshore wind farms, that means deploying effective wind cable monitoring strategies, equipped to accurately detect any disturbances or damage to transmission cables between offshore generators and onshore substations.

As a company, Fotech is committed to playing its part in the global energy transition, by focusing a significant proportion of our strategic growth on the renewable energy sector.  The publication of a new Offshore Wind EnergyPulse Report by RenewableUK demonstrates the exciting potential that offshore wind brings to the clean energy mix. Released in June 2022, the report confirms that offshore energy has well and truly extended beyond Europe and Asia, to become a global industry. The UK government’s British Energy Security Strategy (April 2022) also demonstrates a strong commitment to the sector, pledging to increase offshore wind production to 50 GW by 2030 (extended from its previous goal of 40 GW). This, according to RenewableUK’s analysis, is an achievable target, although significant industry/governmental cooperation will be needed to make the ambition a reality.

When it comes to offshore wind energy, production is only the start of the journey. Advances in DAS wind cable monitoring technology offer new potential for automating cable monitoring, so that operators can ensure that subsea export and array cables are constantly protected against damage and outages that could threaten the supply.

The Offshore Wind EnergyPulse Report: What are the Main Headlines?

Tracking a total of 133 offshore energy projects, EnergyPulse demonstrates that the UK’s offshore portfolio currently has a potential capacity of more than 91 GW. Within this portfolio, 10.5 GW of projects are already fully operational, and 80.8 GW are in the future new-build programme.  The report also examines the same statistics globally, revealing the following data by region:

Europe: 490 projects, 350 GW capacity

Asia: 490 projects, 241 GW capacity

North America: 64 projects, 81 GW capacity

South America: 64 projects, 137 GW capacity

Australasia: 27 projects, 24 GW capacity

That brings us to a global total of 1,134 projects with the capacity to produce more than 845 GW of offshore wind power to fuel the world’s renewable energy needs.

Returning closer to home, the UK currently produces more offshore wind electricity than anywhere else in the world, according to bp. As bp points out, the UK’s coastal conditions, combined with a significant drop in associated capital costs in recent years, provide the ideal conditions for sustainable offshore wind energy production. Projects such as Morven, enBW bp’s flagship wind farm project, are shining examples of how the UK’s powerful natural elements can be harnessed for the future of clean, green energy.

How can OFTOs monitor wind energy cable assets using DAS photonics?

Offshore energy transmission assets, under the Energy Act 2004, must be divested to OFTOs (Offshore Transmission Owners) – responsible for running and maintaining transmission from the offshore generator to the onshore substation network. So, when it comes to offshore/onshore transmission, ensuring an uninterrupted supply is the OFTO’s responsibility.

Offshore wind cable monitoring is a challenging business, though. Returning to Morven as an example, locating wind energy farms in close-to-shore, shallow waters has a number of production advantages. But, when it comes to monitoring threats to subsea export cables, their shallow location (typically, they are buried less than 200 km deep) makes them particularly vulnerable to cable arcing, natural subsea disturbances and – most pressingly – anchor drag and accidental damage by fishing trawlers. Indeed, the European Subsea Cables Association confirms that 70% of subsea cable damage is caused by fishing related activities. What’s more, when such events do occur, the average export cable repair time is a staggering 10 days, at an average cost of £6,000 to £8,000 per day, according to Offshore Engineer. Not only does that present a huge operational cost for Offshore Transmission Owners, it also has obvious implications in terms of maintaining supply uptime.

Distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) – also known as Distributed Fibre Optic Sensing (DFOS) or DAS phonics – is increasingly being embraced by OFTOs as a smarter, faster way to automate subsea wind cable monitoring. A DAS interrogator unit sends thousands of pulses of light down the fibre optic cables that are typically co-located with subsea export cables in a bundle. Some of these pulses are reflected back along the cable to the DAS unit, and any disturbance in those light patterns (also known as Rayleigh Backscatter) is detected and analysed by the unit.

In the case of Fotech LiveDETECT II®, the real value is driven by our advanced Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning capabilities. LiveDETECT II®’s wind cable monitoring systems combine a Helios® DAS interrogator (or several built in a modular pattern for longer cable networks) with the Panoptes server alarm. Together, they not only monitor for disturbances 24/7, but also interpret, analyse and then report that data to the OFTO – alerting to the nature and urgency of the problem within just seconds, and pinpointing the breach location within metres. For operators, this is a crucial strategy to ensure fast, accurate, safe repairs when inevitable wind cable damage occurs.  Indeed, our subsea cable monitoring case study demonstrates exactly how LiveDETECT II® can save millions of pounds in repair cost and downtime – whilst protecting essential offshore energy transmission as part of the UK’s shift to renewables as a mainstream power source.

More on DAS Subsea Cable Monitoring:

Visit our cable infrastructure monitoring section to find out more about onshore and subsea wind cable monitoring.  

Explore the science behind DAS asset monitoring technology.

Contact the Fotech team in your region to discuss your wind cable monitoring challenges and how we can help.

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