by Tina Olivero

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


    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 building in recent weeks. And on 10 October, we announced that the first megawatts of power had been harvested from Dogger Bank.

    Inside the control room

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

    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 in senior positions in the Coastguard Agency and is now contracted to the project by SMC Specialist Marine Consultants.

    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 meters significant wave height, which is deeply unpleasant,” he says, with a seafarer’s understatement.

    “It’s not very deep out there, maybe only 25 meters 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 energized offshore.

    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 percent 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 meters, 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 meters 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.

    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.

    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 harbor 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 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 energized the 13 MW Haliade-X turbines in this kind of environment.

    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 the first power from the turbines offshore.

    It’s a milestone for energy security, job creation, and cost reductions — 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.

    Tina Olivero

      Would you like to know more about this story?

      Let us know who you are and how we can assist you.

      First Name *required

      Last Name



      Email *required

      Mobile required

      What are you interested In?

      Learning more about this story?Contacting the company in this story?Marketing for your company?Business Development for your company?

      I am interested in...

      Did you enjoy this article?

      Get Media Kit

      OGM - Our Great Minds