Exploring Sennen’s Super Control Room: A Q&A for Multi-Site Operators

2nd November 2023

If you’re an operator with multiple sites in your portfolio, you may have heard about our Super Control Room. Read our Q&A for a more in-depth look at this part of the Sennen system.

We’d love to hear from you if you have other questions on this topic.

How is technology being used to improve how offshore wind operators work?

Technology has unlocked the potential of centralised systems. Work can be planned in the same piece of software, rather than in disparate places. There’s a move away from Excel spreadsheets or Prima or whatever the system might be, so work can be planned from one platform. Operators can still make individual plans of activity but they connect with each other. Potential issues are identified in the planning phase. This could be things like simultaneous operations when people want to work on the same asset or in the same area. Sometimes that’s acceptable and sometimes it’s not. The system checks expired certificates, inspection dates on safety equipment, and personnel authorisations. If any of that doesn’t work, or the plans don’t work together, this can be identified early, before any people or equipment are mobilised. It also tackles the inefficient use of resources. For example, a contractor might want to use a CTV and it makes sense for them to plan that in a certain way but actually, when you look at the wind farm as a whole, it might mean putting different teams together on a different vessel. You can plan a more efficient use of resources.

What are the particular benefits for operators with multiple sites? 

Historically, sites have been run as standalone assets with a dedicated team. This means reinventing the wheel every time a new site comes online. There might be processes and systems that are used in the construction phase that get carried into the operations phase but they’re not really specific to that operation. Each site can end up being like an island, each running individually. One of the benefits of pulling all this together from the outset is that lessons can be learned and best practice is shared easily. By sharing information, data and processes across the whole fleet, you use your resources better and more efficiently. Ultimately, you get greater flexibility when operating from a central control room. There can also be a dramatic reduction in CapEx if you’re not having to build O&M bases in each separate location.

What are the benefits of having O&M more centralised?

What we often see is that systems are very siloed and are very site-specific. One site has made a technology choice and is running with one process and another site has made a different choice. This really limits the value of the data that comes out of these systems.

It also makes streamlining and automating processes difficult as it has to be done on a site-specific basis. Even when a system is centralised, it often covers quite a narrow function. For example, operators might have a centralised marine co-ordination system but it doesn’t include work management or weather. Our vision is for operators to achieve a really comprehensive view using a system which keeps track of what the turbines are doing, their status, where the vessels and aircraft are, the weather forecast, what the site conditions are, measured wave heights and so on. And then of course linking that to who’s working where and what work is ongoing.

Does that mean the future for offshore wind will require fleets to be run from one central location across all sites?

It’s not necessarily a single location. It doesn’t have to be one physical place where everything is run from. What we really mean is that the system and processes are centralised in the cloud. There may well be a control centre that runs a portion of the fleet or the whole fleet. But it’s about unifying the processes so that you can build in more efficiencies that can be applied in a structured way across the whole portfolio. The system can be operated remotely. You can have different time zones and different users logging into it.

Centralised systems can be unpopular among users on the ground. What’s your experience of this?

There can be friction sometimes. Across a portfolio, all the different sites will have individual levels of expertise and each site will have its own site-specific processes so there is a challenge in aligning all of those. But we are finding that our system is easy enough to use so we get minimal workarounds (when people are finding ways around using the system). Once teams are up to speed on the system, they enjoy using it and appreciate the benefits it brings. It’s always going to be essential to have a local O&M base or team that has the knowledge and the resources to respond to the challenges of running an offshore wind farm. But there are huge benefits in centralising and controlling all the planned activity that happens offshore.

How can a system like this actually be delivered?

A key place to start is centralising all the different data sources from the sites. The first part of that process, we would say, is looking at whether some background centralisation can happen. Perhaps you can consolidate your weather forecasts so that not every site has a different provider. From there, we build a centralised data model with different data integrations feeding into it. For example, you could start by centralising a key function such as shift planning. Data starts to feed in like weather forecasts, outstanding work, personnel and qualifications. Once the unified structure is in place, we apply powerful tools on top of that which operators can apply across their whole portfolio.

Once you improve the central process, it’s automatically available to all sites that have since been onboarded.

The same applies to marine co-ordination. We integrate a breadth of data such as live vessel and aircraft data, live turbine SCADA and live weather data. This allows the system to show where your resources are, what the turbines and substations are doing, what power is being produced, and so on. Once the central model is built, it makes the unified view available to all sites.

Can you describe what the onboarding process is like? 

During the planning phase, we work closely with our clients to identify the key data sources that are in play across sites, and where there is potential to consolidate these, as well as mapping the key stakeholders. We deliver the system incrementally, and we follow a logical plan. The first stage of the delivery is to get the Sennen system set up, populated with static data, and configured according to the client’s requirements. There’s a degree of customisation available in this, to reflect different operations and processes.

Next, we move into the integration development phase. Sennen can integrate with the majority of forecasting service APIs, as well as other third-party services such as personnel tracking, radar data, and position data for vessels and aircraft. In terms of on-site data from our clients, we are familiar with all standard data structures and formats, which means we can design and develop integrations swiftly to feed the Sennen system with powerful data. Where required, we can also bring on sites one by one, or take a single function or module and roll it out across multiple sites. In this way, clients are up and running efficiently and the system delivers value as soon as possible.

Do clients have to subscribe to third-party services once they have the Super Control Room up and running?

An example of a typical third-party service would be a weather forecast provider but it could also be another system that’s running in the cloud such as an RFID card reading system. We already have adapters for a variety of these systems so existing agreements can remain. If a client is relying on a third-party provider but not receiving the level of service or data they require, we might recommend a particular provider and work with them to get the right data integrated.

Are there emerging industry standards on how these adapters are developed?

This is a hot topic at the moment. It depends on the level of standardisation and for sure we’ve seen a lot of standardisation at the protocol level. So, for example, with third-party services, the majority have some form of web-based API to retrieve data from that system. There are some standards which determine how a tagging system retrieves SCADA data. But we haven’t seen a huge amount of unification in the way that data is offered and it can differ quite a lot. Some areas are pretty standard, such as vessel positions, where it’s a fairly standard model. It’s an international standard that has to work for every vessel tracking system. But generally, there isn’t a rapid move forward towards standardisation.

Do you find it hard to introduce the system when a wind farm developer has its own SCADA control room set up?

If there is already a SCADA system in place, we wouldn’t look to replace it but we integrate with it instead. There are sometimes challenges with getting access to the data sources and finding the right people that can allow access but it’s something we’re very familiar with.

Watch the full recording of our presentation on the Sennen ‘Super Control Room’

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