Ørsted, one of the world’s foremost offshore wind farm developers, has designed and developed an uncrewed surface vessel (USV) specifically for offshore metocean measurement campaigns. The collected measurement data plays a crucial role in reducing uncertainties in the projected annual energy production of new offshore wind farms. Having patented the USV concept, Ørsted recognizes the immense potential of this technology and has initiated serial production based on the success of its prototype USV.
The prototype USV is named Hugin USV. It is designed for continuous operation in the harshest offshore conditions for a year at a time. The USV has a built-in navigation system, which enables it to transit from shore at various degrees of autonomy, and it can be controlled both in line-of-sight or from a beyond-line-of-sight remote control centre.
The USV is a versatile sensor platform that gathers a wealth of data on wind conditions, seabed status and ecology. These measurements are crucial for Ørsted’s early-phase development activities before constructing new wind farms. The USV concept was created by employees and is patented. The company collaborated with industry partners to design, develop, construct and test the prototype USV as part of its innovation programme. The Danish shipbuilder Tuco Marine Group constructed the prototype, while the USV control system was provided by Maritime Robotics, a Norwegian company. Ørsted’s collaboration with small and innovative companies, combined with its expertise in vessel construction and autonomous control systems, contributed to the successful delivery of a high-performing USV prototype in a short time frame.
Enabling consistently high data availability
Frederik Søndergaard Hansen, programme manager and co-inventor of the USV concept, stated: “What’s so special about our USV concept is that it can bring our measurement equipment to and from our offshore sites without the need for large, specialized support vessels and, while on site, it can operate autonomously for extended periods of time, measuring large amounts of data that can be sent onshore and processed in real time. The USV concept enables Ørsted to obtain a consistently high data availability, which is essential for achieving the highest possible certainty regarding the annual energy production for new offshore wind farms.
“Ørsted’s USV concept has several advantages over conventional solutions that rely on specialized support vessels to bring measurement equipment to offshore sites. The Ørsted USV improves safety by removing the risk for offshore technicians, reduces overall carbon emissions significantly, and increases the operational window as it can operate safely in high sea state conditions.”
Another benefit of the USV concept is the significantly lowered costs of conducting offshore measurement campaigns, while providing increased flexibility for Ørsted through internal ownership and operation of the USVs. The prototype vessel, Hugin USV, has been tested in Danish and Norwegian waters and has been operational during hurricane conditions, where it experienced waves up to nine metres in the North Sea. Hugin USV has also achieved type validation as a floating Lidar system by the internationally accredited Norwegian classification society Det Norske Veritas (DNV), enabling it to be used for commercial operations related to wind farm development.
“The autonomous vessel is a very good example of Ørsted’s innovation methodology. First, we study the megatrends addressing our industry – in this case, the challenge of obtaining quality wind measurements and environmental data in the fastest time possible. Then, we apply our three-step demonstrator, stepstone, and commercial-scale product-to-market recipe. We therefore start small and proof the concept, then through strong partnership collaboration, financial backing and against the tide of macroeconomic trends, persevere through our extensive in-house project management experience and systematic problem-solving mindset,” said Jacob Edmonds, head of innovation at Ørsted.
Ørsted’s exceptional results have prompted the commencement of serial production for a new generation of USVs. These upgraded USVs not only integrate the knowledge gained from the prototype, but also expand operational capabilities to encompass deepwater operations for upcoming floating wind farms. Constructed in Denmark by Tuco Marine Group, the new class of USVs benefits from continued collaboration with Maritime Robotics, who supplies the control systems, as with the prototype. The goal is to manufacture five new USVs by the end of 2023.