Project certification is a well-accepted, and in some markets mandatory, part of offshore wind farm development. By verifying that a project is being designed, built and operated according to accepted industry standards, certification ensures reliable quality, stable operation and proper risk management. This brings confidence for all stakeholders, helping the project to secure funding and regulatory go-ahead.
However, the first key milestones for project certification come after a considerable amount of work on the project has already been carried out. For example, lead times, manufacturing availability and tax credits may encourage production of some components to start while the main project is still in the design stage – which introduces the potential for integration problems later.
Earlier action, simpler solutions
This can be a bigger issue in emerging markets, where less experience across the whole supply chain leads to a more protracted development process that can take many years. Consequently, some developers are looking at ways to reduce risk in the earliest stages of a project by calling on the expertise of certification bodies before project certification starts.
Pre-certification (or in North America pre-CVA) is not simply a case of checking a project is on the right track to be certified later. Rather, it describes a wide-ranging set of activities to review and validate data collected and decisions made in the earlier stages of a project to assess and address risks. Doing so early in the project allows potential problems to be solved more quickly, easily and cheaply. But the project does need to have reached a certain level of maturity for such activities to deliver meaningful results. So typically, pre-certification activities take place during the concept design and site investigation stages.
For example, in the scenario above, where a developer wants to start manufacturing certain components early, either due to long lead-times or to take advantage of manufacturing windows or tax credits, risks can be considerably reduced by having enough of the project design reviewed at this stage. This provides reassurance that these early-manufacture components will interface with the rest of the project as it develops.
Reducing delays in design and fabrication
In markets that lack industry standards, establishing a Codes and Standards hierarchy is crucial. While the hierarchy is validated during project certification, this may not be done until the final project design is submitted. Finding out at this stage that the Codes and Standards hierarchy is not acceptable is a huge blow, potentially incurring significant delays and costs to rectify. Instead, creating and reviewing the hierarchy at the start of the concept design phase allows any issues to be identified and fixed before they propagate through the project design, so that developers can proceed more quickly and with confidence.
Similarly, accurate knowledge of the environment at a prospective site, such as soil profiles, water depths, and wind, wave and current conditions, is essential for designing offshore wind farm structures. Some characteristics like geotechnical conditions can take a very long time to investigate. By reviewing these investigations in real-time, a certifier can ensure the information gathered is factually sound and interpreted in a way that is consistent with local codes. This is particularly valuable where developers provide site conditions as part of the specifications for subcontractors to create designs. Pre-certification reviews of that information can facilitate negotiations and assure the designer that the factual data is appropriate for design use.
Helping developers succeed
The potential scope of pre-certification activities is vast and depends greatly on the site-specific needs of the project. But by addressing issues with a very defined scope, pre-certification offers a cost- and time-effective way for developers to front-load any issue they feel may present a possible risk to their project’s success.