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XOCEAN: Fulfilling offshore wind projects during a global lockdown

Standing still during the lockdown was neither an option nor a reality for XOCEAN. Remote teams dotted around the world came together to organise the logistics and operation of Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) to complete projects.


Since 2017, ocean data collection company, XOCEAN, has grown rapidly and excelled in delivering expert solutions within specialised sectors. The Louth-based outfit offers a range of turnkey data collection services to surveyors, companies and agencies.

“We’re an ocean data company,” XOCEAN CEO, James Ives says. “We’ve developed unmanned technology and systems to collect different types of ocean data. Everything from mapping the seabed to inspecting subsea assets like cables and foundations for wind farms. We also collect environmental data for several sectors like offshore renewables, particularly offshore wind. And we operate globally.”

XOCEAN’s mission is to transform ocean data collection by bridging the knowledge gap that lies in 95% of the world’s oceans being unmapped. In doing so, they aim to support the sustainable and economic growth of our oceans. With goals like these, there’s no time to slow down, and the company has been busy fulfilling multiple projects for clients lately. They are supporting clients with asset integrity inspections, deep-sea sensor data transfer missions in the UK and Norway, and seabed mapping to improve nautical chart accuracy, safety, and marine environment understanding. Ives tells us they have also delivered projects in an area that he finds particularly exciting: offshore wind.

One such project involved remotely delivering and launching a USV to the sea off Suffolk to undertake survey work for the Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm, a joint venture between SSE Renewables and innogy SE. The vessel carried out seabed surveys on multiple turbines at the 140-turbine wind farm, located 23 kilometres off the UK coast.

Ives believes that the use of unmanned systems holds three key advantages that will be even more relevant in a post-COVID world. “First of all, safety. If nobody needs to go offshore, that removes people from harm’s way. Second is carbon emissions. We generate about a 1,000th of the emissions of a conventional survey ship, and we offset all of those emissions. The data we collect is fully carbon neutral. Finally, we believe we can deliver the data at a lower cost.”

Offshore wind reaping the benefits of data experts

As an industry that requires vast amounts of data, offshore wind is an area where XOCEAN can offer real value. Throughout a typical offshore wind project, Ives tells us, ocean data collection and analysis is essential.

“Before an offshore wind farm is built, it needs many years of environmental data and detailed studies of the seabed to determine where to place foundations and cables. Then throughout construction, there’s a need for multiple surveys. After it’s built and is operational, there’s a 25-year period of maintaining those assets.”

Offshore wind is a crucial technology leading the charge in the face of an energy system undergoing rapid change. Globally, investment in the area quadrupled in the first half of 2020 as governments look towards sustainable futures and meeting international energy targets in an economically viable way.

“The offshore wind sector has transitioned from perhaps being a more expensive form of energy than traditional forms of fossil fuel generation, to become a hugely economic way of generating electricity at large volumes,” Ives says. The growth of the industry is a testament to this: Offshore wind is anticipated to grow from 22 Gigawatts (GW) in 2018 to 177 GW by 2030.

The Irish offshore wind potential

Ireland has the potential to power itself, surrounded by a resource yet to be fully harnessed. Irish companies are perfectly positioned to offer specialised services and capabilities such as IoT, robotics and wireless communications to the industry. Enterprise Ireland’s offshore wind industry cluster aims to empower Irish capabilities within the space, partnering to deliver global projects, and bring the expertise back to develop the domestic industry in Ireland.

Ives believes the Irish potential to become leaders in the field is strong. “Ireland is very fortunate that it has a lot of the ingredients needed for a very significant offshore wind market, particularly in the Irish Sea, where the water depths and wind resources are good. It’s an ideal place for very significant developments offshore.”

XOCEAN is building towards international success

Keeping cogs turning during a global pandemic is a sure sign of a bright future for XOCEAN. As well as having a keen eye on the offshore wind sector, Ives tells us that their focus is on fleet growth and entering new markets. “We’re working on the 10th and 11th vessels at the moment, and we continue to plan to build more units. We’re working further and further afield; in North America, throughout Europe, and we’re looking at several projects in the Asia Pacific region. We’re very excited about the future.”

Partnering with Enterprise Ireland

XOCEAN has maintained a close relationship with Enterprise Ireland since Ives flicked the switch in 2017. Through financial and market-entry supports, he says that the help they have received has been crucial and hopes to continue the relationship.

“We work very closely with Enterprise Ireland on a lot of activities, such as exhibitions and trade missions. And they’re very helpful for us in terms of introducing us to new clients in new markets. The international offices are fantastic at being able to provide that introductory service. We’re very grateful for the support we receive, and we look forward to continuing the relationship.”

XOCEAN is one of the 50 Irish companies currently involved with the EI offshore wind industry cluster, aiding in the development of expertise, the sharing of sector knowledge, and the introductions between new global partners.

“The Enterprise Ireland team is very focused on the offshore wind market. We’ve participated in offshore wind seminars, trade shows, and trade events. It’s an important market for Enterprise Ireland, and we agree. We feel that it has huge potential, so we would look forward to continuing that.”

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