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Building Dogger Bank Wind Farm: a sneak peek behind the scenes

Countdown to a renewables milestone

It’ll be the largest offshore wind farm the world has ever seen, powering the equivalent of six million British homes. And although all 277 turbines won’t be operational until 2026, excitement has been growing in the buildup to 10 October, when we announced first power. We paid a visit during that final, exciting phase.

Here, inside the landmark Operations and Maintenance base in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, all eyes are on the control room in the Marine Coordination Centre, where SSE Renewables, Vårgrønn and Equinor are overseeing its construction.

Once inside the secluded control room, we discover a calm that belies the sheer scale of the project before our eyes. Low voices and tapping of keys underpin the atmosphere of concentration.

Occasionally a maritime radio crackles into life — the only tangible evidence of a hive of activity taking place offshore.

Wall-sized computer screens show a giant jigsaw puzzle moving in real time – ships, helicopters, cable lays, turbines, and towers — and the nearly 500 people living and working far out at sea to assemble the pieces.

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News: | First power from Dogger Bank Offshore Wind Farm | 10th October 2023

Dogger Bank Wind Farm O&M Base in Newcastle

Our Operations & Maintenance Base opened at the Port of Tyne in March 2023. It will serve as the hub for operations at the wind farm, and also houses the control room that will monitor and manage 5% of the UK’s electricity generating capacity. Over 400 long-term roles have been created locally, with additional spinoffs for the local community.

See behind the scenes at Dogger Bank

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See behind the scenes of Dogger Bank — and meet the people building the world's largest offshore wind farm. (This content was paid for and produced by Equinor in partnership with the commercial department of the Financial Times.)

The onshore hub of the operational phase

Keeping track of it all is the lead marine coordinator on duty, Kaimes Beasley.

“Isn’t it stressful?” we ask, awed by the complexity of the displays.

“If it’s stressful, then we’re doing it wrong,” smiles Kaimes, proving that his aura of calm professionalism goes more than skin-deep. He has over 20 years of experience from senior positions in the Coastguard Agency and is now contracted to the project from SMC Specialist Marine Consultants.

Kaimes Beasley has over 20 years of experience from senior positions in the Coastguard Agency
Kaimes Beasley has over 20 years of experience from senior positions in the Coastguard Agency. "I have the perfect face for radio," he says jokingly.
Photo: Colin Dobinson

“There’s a lot of activity going on, and we’ve had a weather stand down for the last couple of days, but they’re back out there now. We had up to five metres significant wave height, which is deeply unpleasant,” he says, with a seafarer’s understatement.

“It’s not very deep out there, maybe only 25 metres in some areas on the bank itself, which is why the waves get so large, and because there are big, long fetches from the north and south,” he explains.

We don’t dwell on the irony of strong winds affecting the building of a wind farm, but turn instead to the turbines themselves. It’ll be the first time that the giant 13 MW GE Haliade-X turbines are energised offshore.

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Map of Dogger Bank location
Dogger Bank is a large sandbank located in the North Sea. Historically, during the last ice age, it was part of Doggerland, a land bridge connecting Great Britain to continental Europe, inhabited by prehistoric humans. Over time, rising sea levels submerged it.

Giant turbines

The 13 MW Haliade-X turbine is so large that just one turn of its blades can power a home in the UK for two whole days. When all 277 of these behemoths are in operation, they will provide 5 per cent of the UK’s electricity.

The combination of a bigger rotor, longer blades and higher capacity factor makes Haliade-X less sensitive to wind speed variations, increasing predictability and the ability to generate more power at low wind speeds.

And their size? 260 metres, almost twice the height of the London Eye — so installing one in the middle of the North Sea is no mean feat. 

“The monopiles made by SiF Netherlands are enormous,” says Kaimes, referring to the steel foundation tubes that are piled into the seabed to support the weight of the wind turbine and withstand the forces exerted by wind, waves, and currents.

“They are eight metres in diameter, and depending on where they will be used, they will weigh between 1100 and 1500 tonnes, each. There’s nothing about this project which isn’t mind-blowing,” he says, gesticulating.

He’s a natural communicator and used to presenting the project to visitors and media, although modest about his talents — “I have the perfect face for radio,” he quips.

The monopiles weigh between 1100 and 1500 tonnes each. There’s nothing about this project which isn’t mind-blowing.

Kaimes BeasleyLead Marine Coordinator for Dogger Bank Wind Farm

The Haliade-X 13 MW wind turbine

GE Renewable Energy has developed the Haliade-X, the most powerful offshore wind turbine in operation in the world, with a 230-metre rotor, 107 metre blades, and a 38,000 m2 swept area. Just one turn of its rotor can power a home in the UK for two whole days.

Area comparable to the county of Norfolk

“We have ADS-B, Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, which is what you can see on FlightRadar on your phone, and which we principally use for tracking helicopters, and AIS on the ships, so we can track the positions of everything in real time,” says Kaimes, pointing to the maps on the screens. He grabs the mouse to show us more.

“When you zoom out you can see how enormous the area is — it’s comparable with the county of Norfolk,” he says. “Several thousand years ago, there were people living out there, and you could walk across between England and Norway.” 

Limited fishing activity

Dogger Bank is a large sandbank in the North Sea, and during periods of lower sea levels tens of thousands of years ago, it would have been exposed as dry land or shallow water.

Although the area has long been known by fishermen to be a productive fishing bank, today, the benthic environment is protected to conserve habitats important for biodiversity.

“There’s no bottom-interfering fishing activity or any kind of trawling allowed on the Dogger Bank,” says Kaimes. “There’s a byelaw that allows certain fishing activity out there, but it takes the form of strings of lobster pots and so on,” he says.

The VHF radio crackles into life.

“Bear with me a second,” he says. “What’s your message, over?”

“Good afternoon, we’re leaving the wind farm at one-three and proceeding to ABLE Seaton at nine tomorrow morning.”

It’s the captain of the wind turbine installation vessel Voltaire, a 21,000-tonne jack-up vessel with legs designed to keep it firmly standing on the seabed while installing wind turbines. It’s capable of lifting up to 3000 tonnes with its crane, which can reach higher than the Eiffel tower. They will be putting into Hartlepool the following morning for bunkering, loading and supplies.

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Wind Turbine Installation Vessel “Voltaire”

The Voltaire is a self-elevating and self-propelled vessel designed for installation of offshore wind turbines. With four approximately 130 m long legs and a high-speed jacking system, the vessel is able to operate in depths of up to 80 metres. It has a 7,000 m2 cargo deck, a 3,000 t main crane and a jacking deadweight of 14,000 t, and is able to carry and install even the largest wind turbines.

Photo: Colin Dobinson

Generations of offshore energy shoulder-to-shoulder

In Hartlepool, some 40 miles south of Dogger Bank Wind Farm’s Operations Base in Newcastle, ABLE Seaton harbour makes a fascinating place to witness different generations of offshore energy shoulder-to-shoulder: offshore construction vessels being serviced; platforms such as the Brent Spar being decommissioned; and lately, warehousing and logistics for the wind industry — all in the midst of a nature reserve and conservation area. Here, offshore industry and protected species of wildlife thrive side-by-side.

In port, the Voltaire makes for a striking spectacle with its four jack-up legs in the raised position, huge transition pieces (turbine towers) standing vertically on deck, and stacks of turbine blades lying horizontally.

The port of ABLE Seaton
ABLE Seaton harbour near Hartlepool makes a fascinating place to witness different generations of offshore energy shoulder-to-shoulder, all in the midst of a nature reserve and conservation area. Here, offshore industry and protected species of wildlife thrive side-by-side.. Photo: Colin Dobinson

The nacelle: where all the magic happens

Also on deck are three giant Haliade-X nacelles, each comparable in size to six double-decker London buses. These are the ‘engine rooms’ atop the towers where all the magic happens in the wind turbine: the hub and pitch control motors for the blades, the power generator, sensors, electronics, and computers that control the turbine’s orientation, and if necessary, stop it turning in extreme weather to prevent damage.

Although designed for offshore operation, this is the first time GE has energised the 13 MW Haliade-X turbines in this kind of environment.

GE Haliade-X Nacelle

The nacelles are the ‘engine rooms’ at the top of the towers where all the magic happens in the wind turbine. The machinery and electronics in the nacelle include the main generator, sensors, electronics and computers that control the turbine’s orientation. On Dogger Bank, each one is comparable in size to six double-decker London buses.

Photo: courtesy of GE Renewable Energy

First power

“We're giving the highest priority to safe and proper installation, as well as quality control and thorough high voltage testing," says Kaimes Beasley.

And on October 10, we were proud to announce first power from the turbines offshore.

It’s a milestone for energy security, job creation, and the UK's energy transition — and if we are to reach Net Zero in the UK, many more wind turbines will be needed.

That’s why we hope the world's largest offshore wind farm will only be a stepping-stone to even greater things to come.

Turbine blades awaiting loading at ABLE Seaton harbour
Turbine blades awaiting loading at ABLE Seaton harbour. Photo: Colin Dobinson

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