Modern tracking technology for offshore wind parks

Establishing an offshore wind park is a masterful feat, and not just in terms of engineering: it requires similar efforts in human and material logistics. In order to keep a constant overview of an area many square kilometres in size, tracking the current location of employees and devices, operators of such large-scale projects now use so-called localisation or position finding solutions.

Wind parks on land frequently upset local residents: the list of grievances is long and includes poor aesthetics, noise and harm done to birds in the area. Wind turbines on the high seas are at least out of the sight of critical observers. In any case, wind energy is booming, given wings by the energy revolution: the North Sea alone is currently home to nearly 40 wind parks, most of which are run by British or German operators. Another 30 are already planned.

Establishing such assemblies, which can cover 30 square kilometres or more, is a true logistical feat. Hundreds of employees and vast quantities of materials must be coordinated precisely to their destination from far-off mustering points typically located onshore. Since everyday communication methods such as mobile phones tend not to work reliably on the high seas, specialist position finding technologies are required instead - so-called "field and people tracking" solutions. These enable anonymous, precise localisation of objects and individuals in buildings, outdoors or onboard ships. If it becomes necessary to rescue or even evacuate an individual, it is essential that the coordinating centre is aware of their current location and that this information is documented in a revision-safe format.

ANS Active Network Sea Systems GmbH specialises in developing such systems specifically for offshore wind parks. Founded in 2008, the company is one of three businesses operating under the umbrella of the ANS Group, an IT solutions provider based in Reinbek, near Hamburg, which implements maritime IT projects of all sizes across Europe.

ANS solutions' transmitter hardware is designed to meet the special requirements of offshore operations. It can be scaled to any volume and meets all current industry-specific IP protection classes and HSE (health, security and environment) compliance requirements. Dennis Jahnhofen, member of the executive board for ANS Active Network Sea System GmbH, said: "Solutions must be HSE-compliant - during both the construction and operating phases - in order to be used in the offshore wind park sector. This allows us to offer our customers an innovative solution for automated position finding across all phases of these large projects."

During the two-year construction phase of one of the company's most recent projects, around 1,000 battery-powered transmitters were in permanent use as part of the ANS solution. Some individual components of the solution were powered by solar energy, allowing them to be used where no electrical supply was available. Workers and engineers carry them along with their other tools. They constantly transmit their current location to receivers installed on every device and every ship in the construction area. These receivers then automatically transmit the location data to the primary site, where it is merged together. Construction managers can therefore precisely locate objects and individuals inside buildings, outdoors or onboard ships at any time.

This type of solution demonstrates the most significant benefits during the construction phase in particular. This is because, with far more workers in the area than will ever be the case later on, the risk of an accident is much higher. At the same time, there are hardly any structures in place yet, and no connections to a network or to electricity. Construction managers can therefore use a localisation or position finding solution to increase safety and improve rescue times in case of an accident. During the wind park's operating phase, the number of devices in use naturally falls.

Automatic position finding has numerous advantages compared with otherwise traditional manual transfer of location data, for example using a smart card. It constantly transmits up-to-date information and is ideally suited to be carried by individuals. Mobile phones cannot be used for localisation, given their inadequate IP class and GSM broadcast options. Radio-based position finding therefore uses Active RFID, Tetra or a LAN connection.