3DW and the UK offshore wind sector deal

The offshore-wind-sector-deal, signed off earlier this year, acknowledges at the highest levels the success of the British offshore wind industry; Government recognises the contribution renewables and offshore wind is making towards economic growth and regional regeneration.

Hull, Grimsby and Humberside are benefitting as jobs and opportunities from the push to decarbonization are realised. The offshore wind industry, facing a threefold growth in the next decade, is reaching out to SME’s who may have struggled with procurement systems previously perceived as clunky and onerous. The sector deal promotes local content and the need for benefits to go to the host communities; an effective way of achieving this is encouraging small to medium enterprises to be aware of the opportunities and ready to take advantage.

Many years ago, starting in renewables and developing in the North West of England, I came across an innovative digital company 3DW. Led by the affable and entrepreneurial Andy Dennison they used software to bring to life to wind farm developments for stakeholders, harnessing fly- through technology combined with a refreshing approach to answering questions. We exhibited our proposals and their visualisations of ‘what it will look like’ went down extremely well with a public not expected us to show the site in such detail. 3DW enjoyed face to face aspects of exhibiting and meeting with stakeholders as much as I did, as we showed residents how our proposals would look from key viewpoints – and often their own home.

Today I visited their headquarters in Cheshire. The pleasant town of Altrincham hosts a rejuvenated centre and has transformed lovely Victorian market buildings into an ubertrendy and lively place in which to spend time. I was there to see how they are faring as renewables moved from boutique to the industrial and on a truly global scale.

A dozen or so years ago, as I entered the world of the ’big six’ utility sector, 3DW moved in parallel. We re-engaged at eon and they listened as feedback from development and origination teams led to new features being introduced. We used the digital medium more as a working tool with emphasis on features such as construction compounds, roads with cabling trenches and switchgear infrastructure were added in. This proved valuable in shaping the development as a result of stakeholder feedback was acted upon and integrated into eon projects. Hard work yes, but far better at this stage electronically rather than years down the line when proscriptive planning conditions may be in place and costs many times greater.

As the industry moved offshore so 3DW moved with it, once again able to demonstrate an innovative approach, combining geographical GIS data with realistic moving seascapes. No longer modelling on two -dimensional maps for immense real -world sites with their dynamic undulations, crevices and constraints not so easy traversed by equipment and especially cables with their liking for smooth surfaced and a gentle radius.

Anything for which there is data, they said, could be represented digitally and, in massive scale offshore wind farm developments, moving colour immersive representations but once again bring the project to life. 

Once again, the product was refined with 3DW adding features such as offshore substations and vessels which could be moved around the site, moving waves from different wind directions and even underwater with accurate representations of differing turbine foundations. Various types and sizes of turbines can be seen and integrated into realistic scenarios involving a whole range of dynamic sea state and weather conditions. The options worked along rochdale-envelope principles are most useful ally in helping input feedback from stakeholders.

Renewable energy developments can be vast, covering hundreds of square miles of terrain and of a much larger scale than the exhibitions all those years ago. The industry is integrating new elements such as solar and battery arrays and these all need modelling. They include seabed foundations, transition pieces, the different turbines, Inter- array and export cables and, as floating machines are increasingly deployed and modelling of dynamic cabling Their interactive approach should lend itself especially well to possibilities for the generation of hydrogen from offshore wind farms.

3DW also see the wider picture as they support the wider renewables story and includes their going into schools and holding interactive sessions with students participating in nationally recognised STEM activities. Students are invited to organise into roles and effectively become an offshore wind development team. This seems an excellent use of Orsted’s  Skills-Fund-for-Coastal-Areas-of-Lancashire-and-Cumbria and enjoyable learnings about wind farms and the associated technologies their communities often host.

The 3DW story provides a great example of exactly the type of supply chain opportunity that the sector deal seeks to encourage. They saw an opportunity at an early stage and work hard against much opposition to ensure that modernity prevailed. The IT and renewables industries have much in common, facing incumbents who see little need for change. As wind farms have got bigger so did the 3DW offer, helped with advances in computing processing capabilities kept up and enabled the mega-projects envisaged by developers to be shown in an easily understood form for stakeholders and often public alike.

I particularly enjoyed the 3DW’s immersive VR technology ‘Oculus Rift Headset’ construction site experience where cranes swing and boom in front of my eyes and the sound and sight of trucks moving around a working site. This must be of interest to the various offshore port re-developments and those wishing to see how the complicated simultaneous operations or ‘simops’ difficult to co-ordinate offshore.

The combination of a clear vision from state-of-the-art graphics to entrepreneurial spirit and a belief, that the energy sector can help transform the society in which we live. Companies such as 3DW ample evidence the offshore wind supply chain is real and, as they are discovering through supporting Orsted on Bay State Wind (Massachusetts) and Equinor on the Empire Wind (New York) projects has global reach.

It was good to meet up with my old friends. They provide an excellent case study of an SME who believe progress towards decarbonisation is beneficial and prevailed before a sector deal was even considered and serve as a shining example to those hesitant in engaging with offshore wind as to just what can be achieved.