Conquering the Sea: Building an Offshore Wind Farm in the Challenging Taiwan Strait

Offshore wind platform

Offshore wind is playing a pivotal role in driving the transition towards a greener future by harnessing the strong and consistent winds at sea. Together, Taylor Hopkinson and Brunel connect renewables specialists to pioneering projects worldwide. We had the opportunity to interview Chris, one of our specialists who is actively engaged in the installation of the Changfang & Xidao wind farm, situated approximately 11 kilometres off the coast of Changhua County in central Taiwan. Chris shared valuable insights into his career in offshore wind and provided a glimpse into his unique life aboard a vessel.

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Man with safety gear on Offshore Wind Farm

Chris Akehurst

Chris is originally from a seaside town called Hornsea in East Yorkshire, England. Despite his impressive 15-year tenure in offshore wind operations, he shows no signs of slowing down. "I absolutely love what I do, and I have no intentions of stopping anytime soon," Chris affirms. 

Ahoy, Chris! With your extensive background in the offshore wind industry, how did you become involved in this captivating field? 

Initially, I operated large tower cranes commonly seen in cities for about 15 years. As a result of my extensive lifting experience, I was then approached and offered a position as a lifting supervisor. I dedicated another six years to this role, further honing my expertise. Following my tenure as a lifting supervisor, I was promoted to the position of lift planner. It was during this period that I embarked on my first offshore renewables project abroad, in Denmark. This project involved managing all significant onshore cranes responsible for loading components onto vessels. Subsequently, a German company hired me and assigned me to serving as a deck superintendent for their inaugural offshore project in 2012. This role involved overseeing and managing operations and personnel within the vessel's deck department. With time, I swiftly ascended to the position of client representative, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying doing this over the past 11 years. 

Your professional trajectory, transitioning from crane operator to client representative, is quite remarkable. Could you outline your role and its responsibilities?

As a client representative, my role entails representing the client or owner's interests throughout the various phases of an offshore wind project, including construction, installation and operation. I serve as a crucial link between the offshore site and the onshore offices, ensuring effective communication and reporting. My primary responsibility is to oversee all work conducted on the vessel, ensuring strict adherence to the client's requirements, quality standards and contractual agreements. Additionally, safety is a paramount concern in this industry, given the inherent risks involved. Therefore, I maintain a vigilant eye on safety matters, considering the presence of heavy machinery and the lifting of massive loads weighing up to several thousand tons.

In early 2022, you joined our global network of specialists to contribute to the construction of the Changfang & Xidao project.

Yes, that's correct. The Changfang and Xidao wind farm is an ambitious project consisting of 62 wind turbines: 57 on Changfang and 5 on Xidao. Once completed, it will have a capacity of 589 MW, capable of powering around 650,000 households. This project is not only substantial in scale but also noteworthy because it has encountered minimal challenges in erecting turbines in the Taiwan Strait. Unlike other projects that experienced delays due to soft soil on the seabed during installation phases, we have successfully overcome these challenges, allowing us to progress swiftly. In fact, our current pace is exceptional. We have just managed to install twelve jackets in only eight days, which is unbelievable!

 

Sunrise seen from an Offshore Wind Farm in Taiwan
Chris took this picture aboard his vessel. "Offshore life isn't for everyone," he tells us, "but for me, I enjoy every day of it."

That's great news! I can imagine that camaraderie plays a vital role in assuring success when working on an offshore vessel. Can you tell us more about life offshore?

Yes, absolutely. Offshore work often entails long hours, challenging conditions and a strong emphasis on teamwork. Currently, there are approximately seven vessels operating in the field, accommodating around five to six hundred people offshore, including 115 individuals on the installation vessel where I am stationed. When you have a large number of people living at close quarters, it is crucial that they get along well. I must say that the atmosphere here has been absolutely fantastic. The people I've had the pleasure of working with are wonderful, and with individuals hailing from various parts of the world, it adds an element of fun and diversity. These vessels, which are enormous at 220 metres in length, are more than just places of business—they serve as floating homes. Some individuals work offshore for 10-week stretches before returning home for five weeks, so it's essential for this environment to be something special. We have recreational rooms on board where individuals can engage in activities like table tennis. Additionally, we have a theatre, a cinema, a gymnasium and areas designated for relaxation. These amenities provide opportunities for leisure and rejuvenation amidst the demanding work schedule.

 

Fixed offshore wind platforms
Taiwan has been at the forefront of Asia's transition away from nuclear energy and towards renewable sources. The country is currently leading the region in the development of offshore wind energy projects. However, the soft seabeds present challenges during the installation of wind farms, primarily due to the difficulty in stabilizing the foundations of wind turbines. A variety of foundation types are employed based on site conditions and project requirements. These include gravity base, suction bucket, monopile, tripod and jacket structures.

It seems like offshore wind projects involve unique challenges and requirements that can make the work physically and mentally demanding. Nonetheless, in your opinion, what are the benefits associated with choosing a career in the offshore wind industry? 


There are numerous advantages to pursuing a career in offshore wind. Firstly, each project is a new adventure, allowing you to explore places and countries that would otherwise remain unvisited. This is my first project in Taiwan, and I absolutely love it here. In terms of time allocation, most individuals work on a 50/50 rotation, meaning two weeks on and two weeks off. However, in Asia, the rotation is often six weeks on and six weeks off, so I have more time off than when I'm at home. If I were working in a regular job on a construction site locally, I would have to wake up at six in the morning while my children were still asleep, and I wouldn't return until six or seven in the evening. Additionally, some construction sites require weekend work, leaving limited quality time to spend with my family. In contrast, working offshore gives me the opportunity to enjoy up to five or six months off per year. Moreover, I have the flexibility to select longer rotations this year and opt for a more relaxed schedule in the following year. Finally, one must not overlook the financial aspect. The monetary compensation in offshore wind is typically superior to that of onshore wind projects.

What skills do you consider valuable for professionals seeking to work in the offshore wind sector?


Depending on the position, a solid understanding of offshore wind technology, including wind turbine systems, foundations, substructures, electrical systems and associated equipment, is crucial. Familiarity with relevant engineering principles, project management concepts and industry regulations is also beneficial. To become a client representative, you are typically expected to possess a minimum of five years’ offshore experience, health and safety qualifications and marine qualifications. However, my background in cranes and heavy lifting enabled me to enter the field directly. As my career progressed, I attended several courses to enhance my knowledge and qualifications. I currently hold two bachelor's degrees and one master's degree in construction management and safety.

Moving forward, what are some of the upcoming trends in offshore wind?


One of our upcoming projects will involve the use of floating offshore wind technology, which is an emerging and innovative approach. Unlike traditional wind turbines on fixed foundations, this technology anchors floating platforms to the seabed using mooring lines. There are several advantages to this approach. Firstly, it enables wind turbines to be deployed in deeper waters, expanding the range of potential locations for offshore wind farms. Additionally, wind speeds are generally higher in offshore areas, allowing floating wind turbines to generate more energy. However, it is important to note that floating offshore wind is currently considered a niche technology that requires further development in the supply chain and improvements in the technology itself. Despite these challenges, I am confident that we will witness the emergence of more cost-competitive and commercially viable projects in the next few years.

Floating platforms for offshore wind
Floating offshore wind is still in its nascent stages, but the future holds great promise. A diverse range of floating platforms is employed to provide support for wind turbines, designed to withstand the dynamic conditions of the ocean. Examples of such floating platforms include barge designs, semi-submersibles, spar-buoys and tension leg platforms (TLPs).

Are you considering a career in the renewable energy industry? Take a moment to explore the diverse range of opportunities available to you by visiting Taylor Hopkinson's job board.

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