Offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420,000 terawatt-hours of electricity per year globally—more than 18 times the 2019 global demand. But to develop and run offshore wind farms, effective spectrum management is crucial.
Managing the radio frequency spectrum is vital to ensure that the communication systems used to operate offshore wind farms can function efficiently and without interference. Moreover, protecting wind farms plays an important role in safeguarding larger critical infrastructure.
Spectrum management is critically important for offshore wind for three key reasons: to maximize efficiency, to ensure safety, and to meet regulatory requirements.
1. Spectrum management helps maximize efficiency
Spectrum management helps to maximize the efficiency of offshore wind operations by ensuring that different radio communication systems are operating on different frequencies without interfering with each other. For example, offshore wind farms require wireless communication systems to work between turbines, as well as between the turbines and the shore. These communication systems include TETRA, P25, DMR, Microwave, 5G, 4G/LTE, and VHF.
Efficient spectrum management also ensures that offshore wind farms can perform without interference from other sources, such as military or commercial vessels that may use the same frequencies. By incorporating spectrum management, offshore wind projects can function without interruption, improving overall efficiency and reducing downtime.
2. Spectrum management ensures safety
Effective spectrum management is essential for ensuring the safety of offshore wind operations and greater coastal surveillance and safety. This is because it protects communication systems—critical for the safety of offshore wind turbines, as they enable operators to monitor turbine performance, detect faults, and respond to emergencies.
Workers inspecting or repairing wind turbine generators (WTGs) depend on communications for safety and coordination. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) networks are also critical for monitoring multiple facets of the farm, alerting control centers to dangerous changes in readings. For all windfarm operations and elements, effective spectrum management acts as a traffic cop, ensuring the smooth running of all spectrum-dependent systems.
Moreover, spectrum management ensures that communication systems are not compromised by interference from other sources, which could result in a loss of communication and be a potential safety risk. By managing the use of the spectrum, offshore wind operators can work closer with national spectrum regulators, ensuring that the communication systems used in offshore wind operations remain reliable and functional at all times.
Last, Automatic Identification System (AIS) spoofing around windfarms is a serious concern as it can compromise the safety of vessels at sea and potentially lead to a collision or accident. And with the increased numbers of unmanned air and naval vessels around offshore wind farms, communication protection becomes critical for the safety of navigation and flight. Once again, spectrum monitoring can help prevent incidents.
3. Spectrum management helps meet regulatory compliance
Effective spectrum management is necessary for ensuring compliance with various regulatory requirements, such as frequency allocation plans. In many countries, the use of the radio frequency spectrum is regulated by government agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States or The Office of Communications (OFCOM) in the United Kingdom. These agencies are responsible for managing the allocation of frequencies and ensuring that the spectrum is used in a way that does not cause interference or disrupt other users.
However, as offshore wind infrastructure evolves, so too will regulations. In 2022, the FCC recently published a notice of inquiry detailing multiple options for future regulations. As regulations develop, offshore wind operators will need to comply with the rules and laws to ensure that their communication systems are licensed and operate legally.
Effective spectrum management ensures that operators are aware of the regulations governing the use of the allocated spectrum and can comply with them. By self-monitoring and mitigating interference within the wind farm, offshore wind operators can increase trust with national spectrum regulators.
The common theme between all three reasons: communications
Spectrum monitoring helps to ensure that the communication systems at wind farms operate efficiently, safely, and compliantly. It helps wind farm operators communicate with each other, with nearby vessels, and with onshore control centers.
Wind farms are moving towards a hybrid communication approach
As wind farms continue to add additional sensors and systems, the IoT environment is growing from hundreds of sensors to thousands. And ever-more stress is being placed on wired communications, such as fiber. Many professionals in the industry are pushing for a hybrid communication approach that leverages both wired and wireless systems to increase bandwidth and network survivability. Also, wireless systems are faster to deploy than seafloor fiber, decreasing wind farm commissioning timelines.
Unique spectrum considerations for unmanned wind farm services
As the maritime industry seeks to incorporate unmanned surface vessels (USVs) into offshore wind farms, the importance of protecting communications grows. This is because USVs are dependent on safe and secure communication links. There is a similar concern for unmanned aerial vehicles that conduct remote aerial inspections. Without human backup, degraded communications can result in collisions or other navigation safety and flight risks.
Effective spectrum management is critical for the development and operation of offshore wind farms. It ensures that communication systems can function efficiently and without interference, improving efficiency and safety while also ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. As the use of offshore wind energy continues to grow, effective spectrum management will become increasingly important in ensuring the reliable and safe operation of offshore wind farms, their unmanned systems, and other spectrum users.