ORE Catapult launches ambitious drive to tackle subsea cable failures

Cable failures are costly to fix, but industry collaboration will find long-term solutions. Dan Sumner, project delivery manager at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult says anonymity-by-design is key…

ORE Catapult’s dynamic cable test rig
ORE Catapult’s dynamic cable test rig

This is a world first for the offshore wind industry: Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult launched in November a data collection platform that aims to vastly reduce subsea cable failures. It's called ELECTRODE (Electrical cable failure trending and reliability analysis for operational developments). It is now urging offshore wind leaders to collaborate. Dan Sumner, project delivery manager for ELECTRODE, explains more…

Why has ORE Catapult decided to launch ELECTRODE?
Offshore wind has been a massive success around the UK, but cables are the single biggest insurance cost for the industry, making up 75-80 per cent of claims. The cost implications of even a single cable failure can be enormous too, taking an average of two months to repair and often exceeding £10 million in costs and lost power generation.

There’s no database in the renewable energy sector for cable failures like there is for offshore oil and gas, and it’s something the industry could really benefit from. ORE Catapult has a proven track record in solving similar problems. We developed SPARTA, which captures the performance, availability and reliability data for 98 per cent of the UK’s installed offshore wind capacity, and WEBS, for onshore wind.

SPARTA has been running since 2013 and has given operators real insight into how their turbines perform against others, where problem areas might be, and so where to focus their research on solutions.

The data is gathered from a variety of companies and anonymised, after which deliverables for different user groups are created – exactly the same as what we’re doing here but for a different use case.

What are the main causes of cable failures?
There’s a range of failures that happen across the whole length of a cable’s life. Manufacturing defects, installation, or from damage caused by the sea environment can cause them. But this isn’t about pointing fingers – we want to find out more information about where the failures are coming from and why. Then we can provide insight through ELECTRODE in a safe and secure way.

There are lots of good initiatives already out there in the cable industry, but what is lacking is end-user input. Wind farm owners don’t always want to share their data because of the fear of losing competitive advantage.

That’s why we think ELECTRODE will be good because we’ve done similar things through SPARTA, where we have an agreed methodology in anonymising the data. You can only get to the bottom of these problems by sharing, anonymising and trending that data.

Anonymity is built in from the start, even the people operating ELECTRODE won’t be able to see which company the data comes from, it will just be wind farm “X” or “Y”.

ORE Catapult’s dynamic cable test rig

How will ELECTRODE work?
ELECTRODE will continuously collect data into a central database on the root causes of failure, service downtime, the effectiveness of the repair and monitoring procedures and the use of technology in cable failures.

There are two tiers – if you’re providing the data, you will be able to see a detailed dashboard of your own data, and anonymised information from everyone else.

The second tier will just provide industry averages and trends, but that is more than currently available. That is fed into research organisations, academia, cable manufacturers, installation companies – everyone interested.

If we can find out what the status of faults are, it benefits all of the industry, including insurers and investors.

What type of innovation do you think insights from ELECTRODE could lead to?
I’d like to see more condition monitoring systems, and more artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applied to predictive maintenance for cables – that’s a growth industry. There could also be innovation in installation techniques.

Identifying where some of the key issues are through ELECTRODE leaves us ripe to set challenges for supply-chain companies to develop new products and services to solve particular issues.

ELECTRODE will benefit companies like Glasgow’s Synaptec, who ORE have worked with through the REACTION project, on developing a technology for reducing the risk and causes of cable damage through accurate and detailed modelling. Having the world’s first and most comprehensive intelligence on the market will give them a crucial first-mover advantage for future products and services.

At a time when we are talking about a green recovery and focused on meeting ambitious and necessary climate-change targets, this presents a huge opportunity for the UK renewable energy sector and job creation.

An ELECTRODE handbook, setting out terminology, methodologies and trend analysis outputs, is being developed for the project’s launch in early 2021. To register interest in joining ELECTRODE, email ELECTRODE@ore.catapult.org.uk, or to find out more visit here >>>


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