Interview: HF4 to lead the way for cost effective tidal O&M services

Richard Parkinson, Operations Director of James Fisher Marine Services, has shared his experiences in tidal energy industry, as well as his views on the future development of the sector.

Mr. Parkinson, first of all, can you tell us about your experience in offshore renewables, especially in the tidal energy industry?

I initially started my career in the oil and gas industry as a Master of Offshore Construction Support undertaking subsea construction, so my technical underpinning of operational practises and procedures has been developed in a well-established, safety conscious industry.

DeltaStream deployment (Photo: Tidal Energy Ltd)
DeltaStream deployment (Photo: Tidal Energy Ltd)

With this background I saw a clear opportunity to transfer my experience into the growing renewable industry by setting up my own company, Mojo Maritime, in 2004.

At first we were involved in a lot of project consultancy assignments before undertaking larger contracting roles, but it was our first venture into the Irish wave and tidal market in 2007, which really got us noticed. It earned us a very good reputation, allowing us to develop relationships with a range of developers who have now become a part of our steady client base.

Voith Hydro, for example, tasked us with looking at the whole innovation process around the installation of a tidal turbine.

Another tidal energy project we supported was for Tidal Energy Ltd (TEL) off the coast of Pembrokeshire at Ramsey Sound and included cable repair works and installation of the DeltaStream tidal turbine.

To date, our largest project has been the installation of the MeyGen Ltd tidal energy array, which we have been involved in from its conception, with responsibility including a Front End Engineering Design (FEED) study and the design of offshore components, cables, supporting foundations and the installation methodology. During this process we were acquired by the James Fisher Group, and worked with our sister company James Fisher Marine Services (JFMS), who we have since merged with and become the preferred supplier for the O&M phase of the project.

The project has progressed very well with the completion of four cable installations in less than three days at the end of 2015. The significance of this project can be seen in our undertaking of the installation of the world’s first commercial tidal energy array in the Inner Sound of Pentland Firth. We are currently planning the next phase of operation, which comprises of the installation of 1.5MW turbines, and the hooking up of cables in the autumn, in an area of very high and turbulent tidal flows.

Sabella’s D10 turbine with LARS system (Photo: Sabella)

You recently worked on the retrieval of Sabella’s D10 tidal turbine off Ushant Island, France. What were the specific challenges regarding the retrieval of this tidal turbine?

The main challenges during the retrieval of the D10 turbine included protecting the cable from tidal force during the lifting operation and performing the subsea separation of the turbine from its foundation, which we had never previously done. This required designing, testing and manufacturing a bespoke lifting frame in which to store the turbine during transit, along with a special Launch and Recovery System (LARS) capable of retrieving the turbine from the water, placing it on the vessel and from the vessel to the quayside facility.

Key to the whole operation was appreciating and compensating for the age of the cable and its fragility, which if damaged, could jeopardise the whole operation.

We are currently in the planning phase for redeploying Sabella’s D10 turbine after the maintenance operations are completed later this year.

Are there any valuable lessons learned through operations in other offshore energy sectors, such as oil and gas and offshore wind, that can also be applied to the tidal energy sector?

The key thing I have learnt from the offshore oil and gas sector is that you need to use the right tool for the job and in the case of tidal projects this means getting the right vessel.

A lot of the problems encountered in this sector are due to people trying to cut corners and use tools that are not appropriate for the task in hand. This is particularly true in cable handling, where if the mishandling and damaging of a cable occurs it often results in costly and timely delays.

Whatever vessel we select, it needs to be able to withstand very harsh tidal speeds and weather conditions. As such, we conduct calculated test simulations on the vessel prior to it commencing operations, all of which are led by our strong in-house DP team using specific operational site data.

Aker Wayfarer DP vessel used for D10 turbine retrieval (Photo: Mojo Maritime)
Aker Wayfarer DP-3 vessel used for D10 turbine retrieval (Photo: Mojo Maritime)

This testing ensures confidence in a vessel’s ability to remain stationary in a strong current. We follow strict process that we have developed over time which has proven to work very well for us.

In addition, we combine this data with our Mermaid software to assess vessel performance against various sea states and in relation to required tasks. This includes vessel motion analysis to determine the windows of opportunity, in which the deployment site may be accessed and operations safely executed. Mermaid provides us with a reliable data against which to assess the cost and risk of operations to both the client and ourselves.

Can you offer us more details on James Fisher’s latest contract with Atlantis Resources and the preferred supplier agreement?

We have been developing and innovating a vessel design specifically for wave and tidal installation called HF4 with Voith Hydro. The design was approved over a year ago, with a view to building a vessel capable operating safely in high tidal flow with currents up to 10 knots.

In order to construct the vessel, we needed to build a special relationship with developers to make sure the long-term viability of the vessel was sustainable. MeyGen Ltd have been very supportive of the strategy and the vessel throughout, as well as being very helpful in getting a framework agreement in place that will hopefully help us get the appropriate finance together and build sufficient confidence to get the vessel built.

HF4 Vessel Concept (Image: Mojo Maritime)
HF4 Vessel Concept (Image: Mojo Maritime)

A big step forward in helping to achieve this is the supplier agreement between JFMS and MeyGen Ltd. The intention is to get the HF4 built as a primary tool for MeyGen Ltd as opposed to getting vessels from the spot market. Luckily, at the moment the vessel market favours us in terms of costs, so the building of the vessel to support the O&M and installation phases of the project will help us provide a very competitive and cost-effective solution.

When it comes to reducing costs within offshore renewables, how far has tidal energy come compared to offshore wind?

You need to look beyond just managing cost and look at the risk involved as the two go very much hand-in-hand. What we do is to provide very efficient solutions to manage risk so that we can make a strong strategic impact on the commercial side of a contract. This includes the development of our Mermaid tool, as well as looking at the development of a dedicated high performance installation vessel, which would provide us with much more accessibility to site, which is the main area of cost reduction.

With a normal oil and gas pipeline construction vessel we would only have 4 or 5 days a month to access a site to undertake construction work. The HF4 will remove this problem, shared by oil and gas and offshore renewables, by providing unlimited access to a project site thereby enabling operations to take place when required in all kinds of conditions. This will improve operational planning, but it will also provide a platform from which to develop new techniques, which we have not been able to do before.

In what way can supply chain management and integration help reduce costs?

As a business we are working to develop a total in-house solution for tidal energy arrays – offering everything from cable hook-up to cable management systems, wet mate connectors, cable systems and foundation systems from the shore to the turbine.

The step forward we have taken in the industry is provided by the increased offering from within the James Fisher Group. We have access to a range of services that include lifting and handling, diving and ROV, project management, cable handing, complete subsea, topside and marine solutions, all delivered under one contractual interface to further mitigate against additional margin-on-margin costs and minimise contractors supply chain.

Interview prepared by Amir Garanovic