Marlinks develops a monitoring tool for offshore power cables

There is general consensus that green energy is the future. By 2020, Belgium wants to cover 13% of its total energy demand with renewable energy. Wind energy at sea has a considerable share in this. In the next decade, wind turbines covering almost 10,000 megawatt will be installed in the Dutch part of the North Sea, divided over twelve wind farms.

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We spoke with Roel Vanthillo, director of start-up company Marlinks, incorporated by Fluves and Parkwind at the end of 2017. They monitor the power cables that transport the energy from the wind farms to the mainland. Power cables are the least visible part of these huge wind turbines but also the most vulnerable ones. 

“Power cables on the seabed are buried at a depth of at least 1 metre. This is necessary as they could otherwise be damaged by anchors of ships or fishing nets. Besides, these power cables emit heat. The burial depth makes sure they cannot disturb the environment. However, the seabed is not a static landscape. Because of the waves and tides, the seabed changes continuously. That’s why it is important to monitor the burial depth.”

Tool for permanent condition monitoring

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The traditional monitoring of power cables is performed only once a year. A ship equipped with a sonar measures the difference in seabed location compared to the previous year. This gives a rather inaccurate picture of the burial depth and offers little security. Therefore, Fluves developed together with FlandersMake@UGent a tool to permanently monitor the burial depth in real time.

They use thermal models for this and combine these models with algorithms for temperature sensing (Distributed Temperature Sensing).

“In fact, we want to determine the thickness of the sand layer at a certain location of the cable. For this, we use the optical glass fibre cables that these wind farms are already using for transmitting data to the mainland. The temperature can be measured per metre through light that is sent across the cable. Based on the light spectre that is reflected, we can establish the location of the cable. We combine these data with the thermal characteristics of both the cable and the seabed. Next, the algorithm calculates the depth for a given temperature for the specific location of the cable.

Control measurements at sea show that a high level of accuracy is achieved with only a limited set of parameters and models. The collected data are also used to make predictions on how the situation will evolve in view of taking preventative measures.

Acquiring additional competences thanks to knowledge transfer

Fluves started looking for a competent partner to support them in two areas: knowledge of thermal and electrical processes. They chose for FlandersMake@UGent.

“Meanwhile, the cooperation has been successfully completed. The project gradually evolved. In the course of such research, you always find new insights pushing the project in a certain direction. We then continued to elaborate on the results internally. We fine-tuned the code and worked out the statistical model in greater detail. Then we joined forces (at sea) with Parkwind, a developer of offshore wind farms. This resulted in the incorporation of Marlinks.”

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“Our next steps? Apart from projects in Belgium, we are now monitoring the power cables for the Dutch Gemini wind farm, the biggest offshore wind farm in Europe. The wind farm will produce sufficient sustainable energy for no less than 800,000 households. Such projects are vital for achieving the climate objectives.

The wind farm is located about 85 kilometres off the Dutch coast. This represents a huge amount of cables to be monitored. Thanks to the knowledge that we’ve acquired through our cooperation with FlandersMake@UGent, we are up to the task.”

- Roel Vanthillo, managing director of Marlinks.
 

More information about customised innovation

Jeroen De Maeyer - Business developer at FlandersMake@UGent
Auteur

Jeroen De Maeyer - Business developer at FlandersMake@UGent

Jeroen De Maeyer has been a business developer at FlandersMake@UGent since 2018. Jeroen holds a doctorate in electrical engineering, previously worked as a project leader in the industry and has more than 10 years of experience as a business developer at UGent, previously for the energy sector and more recently for the manufacturing industry.

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