Tests and training for fitness, working at high altitudes, sea survival trainings like underwater helicopter escape training – this is the rigorous routine Matthias Focke, Falco Heimann, Georg Englert and Timo Linneweh have all undergone.
The team are insurance experts at HDI Global SE, whose collective job is claims handling and risk engineering of offshore wind farms. These experts are involved in transporting parts, erecting and operating offshore wind farms, ensuring that damage does not occur – or if it does occur, making sure that it is regulated quickly, economically and competently.
100 metres of air underfoot
In order to provide optimal support, it is essential that the team members are often on-site. This is especially true in cases of damage, when Matthias Focke, Engineering Claims Engineer, is a crucial contact person.
Fire, a defective part, the failure of a turbine gearbox – whatever brings the turbine to a standstill, Matthias Focke must assess the damage. Once on the high seas, his job often takes him to heights over 100 metres in the air.
Matthias Focke: “Offshore wind farms can only be reached by ship or helicopter. I don’t feel sick in the helicopter, but when I see one hundred metres down through the grid platform, I do sometimes feel queasy. ”
Every four years, Focke and his colleagues must complete sea survival training. One of the excercises: transferring from a boat to the wind farm platform in rough sea conditions. And then there’s the underwater helicopter escape training, simulating a crash on the open sea. “Due to its centre of gravity, the helicopter would turn on its back in such an emergency,” explains Focke. “Then, only a few seconds remain before it sinks.”
High demands for physical fitness
In order for our experts to climb the plant towers, they become certified in safe work at height. Additionally, medical and physical fitness tests are mandatory every two years. A doctor measures not only high-altitude tolerance, but also lung volume, because Focke and his colleagues often have to deal with heavy respiratory equipment.
Despite the extensive physical demands, 53-year-old Focke – a skilled mechanical engineer with extensive experience in wind power – is an analytical assessor and adviser, above all else. When he inspects damaged equipment soon after an incident has occurred, he can make a solid initial assessment.
Matthias Focke: “I can recognise which spare parts are needed and know where to get them the fastest. At the same time, our customer benefits from the fact that we generally have a large regulatory limit for damage engineers. This allows for quick decisions and swift action to limit the impact of the claim.”
The competence of the claims engineer helps the wind farm operator to avoid or minimise damage.
First step: Arriving safely
The transport of offshore wind energy components to their destination involves many risks. Parts weighing several hundred tons must be transported safely by land and sea, so it’s crucial to know all the risks before work begins.
In these situations, wind farm operators are happy to have the advice of risk engineers such as Falco Heiman. Before joining HDI Risk Consulting (HRC) nine years ago, 42-year-old Falco Heimann studied nautical science and worked on container ships and tankers around the world. Those years at the sea are extremely useful in his current job.
“The wind turbines stand on monopiles, which are rammed 30 metres deep into the seabed,” explains Heimann, Marine Risk Engineer. “These steel tubes have a diameter of eight to ten metres and weigh up to 1,300 tons.Very often they are towed to their destination by barges or pontoons, like floating boxes.
“During transport, the risks associated with weather and sea conditions can’t be underestimated. Once, in adverse weather and sea conditions, a tugboat had to let go the towing wire in order not to be pulled under water by the weight of the laden barge. If you are lucky and the barge is stll afloat it is difficult and dangerous to recover a drifting barge. Big losses, which we definitely want to avoid.”
Millimetre precision on the rocky sea
Even trickier is loading the electrical substations which lie at the heart of the wind farm. Inside them, the energy generated by the turbine is brought together and transformed. Larger than a single-family home, weighing 2,500 tons and coming with a price tag of up to half a billion Euro, the substations also need to be transported over open water with great skill and specialist know-how. The transport of the substation requires millimetre precision – as well as strong nerves.
Falco Heimann: “The logistical challenge is to first load the substation on the barge. Self propelled modular (multi axle) trailers are positioned under the substation and lift it up a few centimetres. It is then maneuvered in small steps along the pier onto the barge. So that the barge does not list or heel too much by the added weight, water must be discharged from the ballast tanks for compensation. The process is supported in tidal areas with the incoming tide. The whole procedure is critical and must be surveyed by myself and other attending surveyors.”
Another part of risk engineering for Falco Heimann is putting a stop to unsafe practices. “In one case, contrary to safety regulations, the barge operator wanted to lay mooring ropes around sharp-edged sheet piles, because there were neither wire ropes nor strong bollards on site,” says Heimann. “I vetoed that because the risk was too high. We then found another solution.”
Production control at the shipyard
In an effort to eliminate risks in advance, the 54-year-old Georg Englert, Risk Engineer at HRC Engineering, a skilled mechanical engineer as well, looks more closely at the production of the substation. “In the manufacturing yards, I survey the assembly process and fire and machine protection, among other things.
For example, whether emergency generators are avaiable as power reserves”, explains Englert. “The substations are among the first components to be installed. It is essential to supply the turbines electricity and to have a data line online immediately after completion tobe able to monitor and control the turbines.”
Cabling involves special risks
In order for electricity generated by the wind farms to reach shore, cables are necessary. These are among the most critical components of a wind farm. If careless work is done during their production and installation, damage is later inevitable. Timo Linneweh, Risk Engineer at HRC Engineering, offers his expertise and experience when needed. The 40-year-old electrical engineer has worked for many years with a cable manufacturer and has appropriate expertise.
Timo Linneweh: “Most wind farm damage, apart from mechanical causes, is due to cabling. That is why the cable spooling processes require special attention.”
The cables that carry electricity from the substation to the mainland are between 20 and 80 kilometres long, but are made in several sections. With a diameter of 25 to 30 centimetres, a metre-long piece of cable weighs up to 120 kilograms.
The segments must be loaded onto the cable laying boat and manually connected to each other outside on the deck. “This spooling process is critical because the cable pieces shoult not be bent too much or damaged otherwise,” Linneweh emphasises. “We also accompany our customers during this process.”
Always close to the project
Risk monitoring is the key service of HDI Risk Consulting. For wind farms, this also includes fire protection.
Linneweh: “Before the wind turbines go into operation, all safety mechanisms on-site have to be in working order. This applies first and foremost to fire protection. Out on the open sea, workers must be able to completely extinguish a fire by their own means, because the fire brigade will not be arriving anytime soon.”
Georg Englert summarises the advantage of HDI Risk Consulting for the customer: “We are the experts in risk engineering and offer our clients professional risk and claims management. We work as a team, with the common goal of loss prevention or limiting the consequences in the event that damage does occur.”