Editorial Feature

Remotely Operated Vehicles in the Offshore Energy Sector

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are designed to perform tasks in hazardous or hard-to-reach areas, making them ideal for applications in the offshore energy sector. This article delves into the applications of remotely operated vehicles in offshore energy, highlighting their significance and exploring notable examples and the commercial landscape.

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What are Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)?

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are unmanned, underwater vehicles that are used to explore the ocean's depths while being controlled from the sea's surface. These underwater vehicles are normally operated with a joystick by someone on a surface vessel. The remotely operated vehicle is tethered to the ship by a set of cables, which allows the operator and the vehicle to communicate electronically.

Remotely operated vehicles have transformed the energy sector, enabling cost-effective and efficient exploration and operations in the vast oceans. Despite covering 71% of the Earth's surface, only 5% of the oceans have been explored, primarily due to the lack of affordable technology. Remotely operated vehicle technology, initially developed for military and oil and gas applications, has seen significant advancements in recent years. Commercial companies have capitalized on reduced costs to create accessible underwater vehicles.

Applications in Offshore Energy

The remotely operated vehicles, which are connected to the surface by an umbilical, take the role of divers in risky or deep-sea situations, improving safety and effectiveness, providing real-time visual feedback and scientific data, operating continuously around-the-clock and revolutionizing activities like surveying, building, and observation.

Subsea Oil and Gas Exploration

In offshore oil and gas exploration, remotely operated vehicles play a vital role in various operations, including inspection, repair, and maintenance of subsea infrastructure. For instance, remotely operated vehicles equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors can examine subsea pipelines for signs of corrosion, leaks, or structural damage, helping prevent accidents, ensuring regulatory compliance, and minimizing environmental risks. Additionally, remotely operated vehicles can be utilized for subsea infrastructure installation, such as connecting underwater pipelines, reducing human intervention and associated safety concerns.

Offshore Wind Farms

Offshore wind farms are a key component of renewable energy infrastructure, and the maintenance and inspection of wind turbines pose significant challenges. Remotely operated vehicles equipped with advanced sensors and cameras, ROVs can be deployed to conduct visual inspections, detect faults, and perform maintenance operations on wind turbines since the ability to remotely control these vehicles from onshore locations reduces the need for crewed support vessels, making operations safer and more cost-effective.

Recent Research

Remotely operated vehicles are extensively used in the offshore energy industry for infrastructure inspection, maintenance, and repair. However, there is an untapped opportunity to utilize these ROVs for scientific research. By modifying ROV operations and equipping them with scientific equipment, the industry can contribute to scientific discoveries and collect valuable data on oceanic changes and marine life.

For instance, a study published in 2020 suggests feasible methods to enhance the scientific value of data collected by industry ROVs, such as improving imaging quality, adding scientific sensors, and collecting biological samples. The study emphasizes that collaboration between industry and research scientists can improve data quality and benefit both scientific research and the industry's environmental supervision. Additionally, the data collected by industry ROVs can be valuable for studying the ecological role of offshore structures and informing future design and installation practices.

Commercial Landscape

The commercial landscape for remotely operated vehicles in the offshore energy sector is rapidly evolving. As the demand for offshore energy continues to grow, companies specializing in ROV technology are capitalizing on this trend and developing innovative solutions. Several prominent players dominate the market, offering a wide range of ROV systems and services tailored to the needs of the offshore energy industry.

eROVs for Offshore Wind Turbine Maintenance

For instance, The National Robotarium, in collaboration with Fugro, is developing electric remotely operated vehicles (eROVs) for offshore wind turbine maintenance. The £1.4 million UNITE project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council and supported by the UK and Scottish governments, aims to enhance worker safety, reduce carbon emissions, and improve productivity in the offshore energy sector by creating autonomous and semi-autonomous ROVs capable of subsea inspection, maintenance, and repair tasks, controlled remotely from anywhere in the world. The initiative seeks to minimize crewed maintenance missions, which are costly, environmentally impactful, and pose safety risks.

This National Robotarium's research focuses on improving mapping capabilities and exploring autonomous interaction with underwater structures and aims to accelerate the adoption of robotics in the offshore wind sector, benefiting global communities and contributing to a transition to net-zero emissions.

Oceaneering International

Another notable player is Oceaneering International, a global provider of engineered services and products offering advanced ROV systems that cater to various offshore energy applications. Oceaneering's ROVs are renowned for their cutting-edge technology and robust performance, ensuring safe and reliable operations in demanding environments.

Saab Seaeye

Similarly, Saab Seaeye contributes to the commercial landscape, continuously innovating and expanding its ROV offerings to meet the evolving demands of the offshore energy sector and striving to enhance the capabilities of ROVs, focusing on increased autonomy, improved maneuverability, and enhanced data gathering and analysis.

Conclusion

In conclusion, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) have revolutionized the offshore energy sector, providing safe and efficient maintenance, inspection, and repair solutions. They have transformed the way operations are conducted in offshore wind farms and subsea oil and gas exploration, enhancing worker safety, improving productivity, and reducing environmental impact.

As the demand for offshore energy continues to grow, the development of autonomous and semi-autonomous ROVs, along with advancements in mapping capabilities and underwater interaction, will play a significant role in accelerating the adoption of robotics and contributing to a transition to net-zero emissions.

A Complete Guide to Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs)

References and Further Reading

Capocci, R., Dooly, G., Omerdić, E., Coleman, J., Newe, T., & Toal, D. (2017). Inspection-class remotely operated vehicles—A review. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering. doi.org/10.3390/jmse5010013

Creating a safe and liveable world: Leading Geo-Data and Consultancy Services. [Online] Fugro. Available at: https://www.fugro.com/

Crewless maintenance vessels to support offshore wind farm repairs being developed at National Robotarium (2023). [Online] HeriotWatt University. Available at: https://www.hw.ac.uk/news/articles/2023/crewless-maintenance-vessels-to-support.htm

Electric underwater robotics (rovs). [Online] Saab Seaeye. Available at: https://www.saabseaeye.com/

McLean, D. L., Parsons, M. J., Gates, A. R., Benfield, M. C., Bond, T., Booth, D. J., ... & Jones, D. O. (2020). Enhancing the scientific value of industry remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) in our oceans. Frontiers in Marine Science. doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2020.00220

Oceaneering | Connecting what’s needed with what’s next. [Online] Oceaneering. Available at: https://www.oceaneering.com/

What is an ROV?  [Online] Ocean Exploration Facts: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Available at: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/rov.html

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Taha Khan

Written by

Taha Khan

Taha graduated from HITEC University Taxila with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. During his studies, he worked on several research projects related to Mechanics of Materials, Machine Design, Heat and Mass Transfer, and Robotics. After graduating, Taha worked as a Research Executive for 2 years at an IT company (Immentia). He has also worked as a freelance content creator at Lancerhop. In the meantime, Taha did his NEBOSH IGC certification and expanded his career opportunities.  

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