Building the Off-shore Wind Industry Training Enterprise – from the Waterline Up

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Offshore wind is being developed at a quickening pace as a renewable energy source for nations contiguous to oceans and other large water bodies around the globe. As with many nascent industries in the renewable energy sector there is a safety critical training aspect to forming this new workforce.

One data point on the offshore wind community’s emerging training enterprise was provided by Niall Campion, a co-founder at VRAI. The Dublin-based executive spoke with the author soon after his return from this June’s Global Offshore Wind 2024 conference which gathered in Manchester, UK.

The Training Imperatives

The Global Wind Workforce Outlook (GWWO) 2023-2027, released by Global Wind Organisation and Global Wind Energy Council, details the massive growth in numbers of wind technicians required to meet forecast construction, installation, operation, and maintenance of the world’s wind fleet up to 2027. The document notes, in part, “More than 574,000 technicians will be needed to construct, install, operate and maintain the world’s rapidly growing wind fleet by 2027.”

Beyond the need to train new workforce members is another imperative at play – off-shore windfarm work is a high-risk endeavor. For starters, several industry projections suggested that by 2035, a notional offshore wind turbine hub height could be 151m (495ft) above the water surface with the rotor diameter pegged at 250m – a bit different workplace environment than a land-locked work site.

Campion further reflected that the state-of-the-art for the current offshore windfarm training model is “very hands-on, very physical. You have big pieces of equipment, and you are climbing ladders, you’re practicing with real turbines. There really isn’t a culture of simulation.”

As followers of Halldale Group’s Safety Critical Training program are aware, virtual reality and related learning technologies are increasing the scope and rigor of instructional models for new groups of training audiences – typically yielding major returns on investment.

"One huge community training challenge: more than 574,000 technicians (one depicted above) will be needed to construct, install, operate and maintain the world’s rapidly growing wind fleet by 2027.” Image credit: VRAI

Start the Revolution

Enter VRAI, which is advancing its presence in the off-shore wind industry beyond an initial fire-awareness safety training course designed to permit a wind farm technician to extinguish a turbine fire in any weather condition. VRAI is conveying the value proposition of using simulation and other enabling technologies for training in this new market through the recent release of a new product, Revolution, and a revised, focused business model.

While non-disclosure agreements precluded the corporate executive from providing more details on Revolution, he noted the product is a combination of the previously discussed fire safety program and an emergency evacuation program. But there’s another part of the broader value proposition for training this workforce. “A lot of people in the industry have never set foot on a wind turbine. You can also put on a VR headset while you are anywhere in the world and experience what it is like to be on a wind turbine. The new entrant can put on a headset and ‘go offshore’ 20 or 30 miles (32 or 48km), and also 150m in the air.”

VRAI has also heard loud and clear the call of “democratization” in technology hardware and software. Democratization is a powerful notion discussed in more mature simulation and training markets, for instance commercial aviation and defense. The strategy permits those training enterprises to scale their workforces’ resources (funds and others) to available, enabling learning technologies. In this case, off-shore wind companies can rent a Revolution-enabled headset, use it for training and return the materiel to VRAI – all “for a couple hundred dollars.”

HTC’s Vive Focus 3 is the HMD supporting Revolution.

As the UK, and indeed the broader Northern Europe area, are leading other global regions in the build of off-shore wind farms, VRAI is forming lessons learned and other outcomes from its early engagement with training enterprises in these regions to mature and tailor its business model for prospective customers elsewhere.

HTC’s Vive Focus 3 is the HMD supporting Revolution. Image credit: VRAI

Halldale Group will be following and commenting on the early efforts of VRAI and other simulation and training industry companies to help mature the broader renewable industry training enterprise.


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