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Wind industry gears up for growing use of helicopters and drones

01 May 2019

The wind industry is highlighting growth in the use of aviation services, from helicopters which transfer crews to offshore wind farms to the use of drones for maintaining turbine blades.

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As windfarms increase in size and are located further out into the sea, it is increasingly cost-effective to use helicopters and drone technologies to carry out vital inspection and maintenance operations.

RenewableUK’s latest Project Intelligence report shows that over 50% of the offshore turbines currently consented or in planning across Europe are over 250 metres tall, and these are all located within UK waters. Most of those projects will use turbines over 280m in height. The tallest turbines currently generating power in Europe are 230m. 

The report also shows that new projects will be built ever further from shore, opening new opportunities for helicopter and drone companies. The use of helicopters in addition to boats for crew transfer becomes a more attractive proposition for projects further out at sea. Of the 10.5 gigawatts (GW) of new offshore wind projects in planning or competing for power contracts in the UK, nearly three quarters (74%) are in waters over 50km from the shore, with the furthest located 210km out into the sea. At present all the offshore wind projects operating in the UK are located within 33km of the coast.

Across Europe, almost all the projects over 50km from shore are in the two leading European markets, the UK and Germany. There is just one other project, located in the Netherlands, beyond 50km.

Alongside the new Project Intelligence data, RenewableUK is launching a second issue of its Offshore Renewables Aviation Guidance and new draft guidance on the use of drones in the renewable energy industry. The new guidance aims to ensure the safe use of drones and unmanned aircraft systems at wind and other renewable energy sites.   

The reports are being launched at an event in Birmingham, Wind & Aviation 2019, which RenewableUK is holding in partnership with Thales, ScottishPower Renewables, Vattenfall, C Speed, G+, Aviation Investment Fund Company Limited, WindEurope, sponsored by Miros Group and NHV Group.

Commenting on the new publications, RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Emma Pinchbeck said: “Upgrading our energy infrastructure brings huge benefits to our economy, creating new jobs and attracting investment to towns and cities across the UK. These reports show that the UK is at the forefront of innovation in offshore wind, investing in the largest, most modern turbines and increasingly using helicopters and drones. This is a huge opportunity for the aviation sector to capitalise on our world-leading industry. 

“Offshore wind will be the backbone of our modern, clean energy system by 2030. As our sector grows, we are working with the aviation industry to draw on the decades of experience which established firms have to offer, as well as the latest drone technology, to operate the wind fleet efficiently and cheaply”.

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