Offshore Wind O&M Will Soon Be Aided by Drones

While it is a coincidence that the Bentley Year in Infrastructure 2016 (YII2016) Conference kicked off for media on the first day of Offshore Wind Week in the U.K., what isn’t a coincidence is Bentley’s ability to transfer its technology from offshore oil and gas to offshore wind. The company has been involved in some of the largest offshore wind farms in the world, such at the 630-MW London Array owned by E.ON, DONG, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Masdar and has a long history in oil and gas.

The announcements that the company is making during its YII2016 event will further assist the offshore wind industry in a number of different ways.

Phil Christensen, VP of analytical modeling at Bentley, said that what Bentley is announcing with AssetWise is very exciting.

“The world has really changed,” he said, which means that “this way where we are bringing together the whole asset management story under one umbrella [is key because today] there is much more emphasis on maintenance and modification of existing assets [than on building new assets].”

This sentiment is true for the existing offshore wind industry in Europe and the UK. Now that assets have been operating in offshore environments for a number of years, maintaining them will be a key component of making them run smoothly for the next 10 years or more.

Perhaps the coolest of the Bentley announcements this week is advancements that the company has made to its ContextCapture product, which allows users to perform “reality modeling” by combining inputs from drones, digital photography, smartphones, and available point-clouds from laser scanning for reconstruction into a reality mesh. Bhupinder Singh, CPO, Bentley, said the company wanted to take the graphics and simulation platforms in games like Minecraft and Sim City and apply them to the engineering world.

The result is a compelling 3D model of a project that can be viewed from any angle at any distance. This model could be particularly useful for developers at the early stages of a project when stakeholder engagement is key because it allows users to see exactly what a project will look like from any vantage point.

“It’s really transformational,” said Christensen.

Christensen pointed out that drones can be equipped with infrared cameras “so you can capture the heat and can do a heat map,” he said, explaining his very cool vision for the future of offshore wind farm O&M:

“I can easily see how in the future, you’ll have a wind farm and then you have a substation somewhere. On that substation there’ll be a hanger and periodically a UAV will come out, fly the whole farm, because it knows where the blades are and can fly around them, go and inspect each one, do an infrared heat signature on the turbines, see if the gearboxes are overheating or whatever… come back, and upload this data somewhere onshore.”

Christensen said this future is “not far away,” adding that we already have the technology to perform all of these tasks.

“It’s just an implementation,” he said. “I think it’s very exciting.”

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at

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