Drones used in search and rescue trials at a North Sea wind farm

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A range of tests using drones at a wind farm in the North Sea have been completed, offering another glimpse of how the technology could have an important role to play in the renewables sector.

The tests were carried out at the 309 megawatt Rentel offshore wind farm by DEME Offshore and Sabca, a Belgian aerospace firm.

According to an announcement from DEME Offshore earlier this week, the trial focused on several areas including turbine inspections, environmental surveys and parcel deliveries.

One part of the pilot involved an automated drone being deployed to carry out a search and rescue demonstration, in which it used infrared detection to locate its target before dropping a life buoy into the sea.

“We are convinced that these innovative, advanced technologies, which focus on fully autonomous operations without the need for any vessels and people offshore, have a game-changing potential to increase safety, lower the impact on the environment in the O&M phase of a project and reduce the overall costs,” Bart De Poorter, general manager at DEME Offshore, said in a statement. The term “O&M” refers to operations and maintenance.

Details of the trial at the Rentel facility follow an announcement last week that researchers in the U.K. were attempting to find sites for marine energy installations using drone technology.

The 12-month project is headed up by scientists from the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland and will also involve researchers from Bangor University and Swansea University in Wales.

According to UHI, drones will be used to “film the movement of water then apply algorithms to determine its speed.” The team will undertake tests in a range of weather conditions in Ramsey Sound, Wales, and Pentland Firth, Scotland.

The broad idea behind the pilot is that drones could offer a cheaper and more streamlined approach to finding potential spots for the installation of tidal turbines compared to current techniques, which use seabed sensors and survey vessels.

The use of drones within the energy sector is well established. Back in 2019, researchers in the U.K. said they had developed autonomous drones that could inspect offshore energy sites.

And in 2018, Air Control Entech and the Oil & Gas Technology Centre launched three drones which could live stream offshore inspections and undertake three-dimensional laser scanning and ultrasonic testing.