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3 Certified Verification Agent Duties for Offshore Wind Facilities

Pioneering Offshore Wind: CVA, Operator and Captain’s Perspectives

A certified verification agent (CVA) is an objective third-party reviewer that reports independently to the permitting agencies and regulators responsible for overseeing offshore construction and operations. In the United States (U.S.), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) requires that facilities with great structural complexity must comply with a federal CVA program to promote safety, integrity and quality during the design, construction and installation of offshore energy facilities. 

In December 2016, the Block Island Wind Farm became the first offshore wind farm to start commercial operations in U.S. waters, with ABS Group serving as CVA. The five-turbine wind power facility is currently producing 30 megawatts (MW) at full capacity off the Rhode Island coast. Plans are now underway for more than 25 offshore wind projects along the U.S. Northeast and mid-Atlantic coasts, ushering in a new era for the country's offshore wind energy sector.

To demystify the critical advisory role that an independent reviewer/verifier provides during the offshore design and construction processes, we have identified three critical responsibilities of a CVA.

3 Critical Steps During Third Party Verification

1. Review and Verify Design  

A CVA's duty is to independently review and validate key aspects of the design, manufacturing and commissioning of an offshore facility. Independent verification provides confidence to the designer, operator, regulator and investors alike that the asset will operate reliably over its 20+ years of expected service life and maintain compliance with state, national and international standards and requirements.

While it is necessary to hire a CVA to independently report to the applicable regulators overseeing an offshore project, operators seek objective third party review to verify all aspects of the wind farm design to help assure project excellence. A reliable wind farm development starts with a review of the design criteria.

CVAs review historical data and analyses of weather and sea state conditions, such as the impact of hurricane force winds, while evaluating design criteria. Design criteria of the Block Island Wind Farm were based on a 100-year return condition whereby the average wind speed is 100 miles per hour (mph) and wave height is 50 feet. Block Island's foundation was also verified for the 1,000-year return wind and wave conditions.

2. Validate Structural Loads and Materials 

CVAs also evaluate design loads to determine structural reliability. Engineers performed approximately 3,000 load cases to demonstrate the Block Island wind farm's fatigue life of 25 years, which amounted to a total of 3,000 to 5,000 hours of simulation time.

For a large construction project like Block Island, several teams and software programs were involved in the design verification phase. In the CVA scope of work, independent design simulations are performed and compared with the wind turbine designer's and foundation designer's simulations to make sure these match according to the specified design criteria.

CVAs also verify that specific materials and welding procedures meet these technical design specifications and are tested to confirm their required quality.

As part of its CVA scope of work, ABS Group provides technical inspection and verification services to help confirm that facilities have been designed, fabricated and installed in accordance with industry standards and accepted engineering practices. 

Wind Turbine Frame

Block Island Wind Farm foundation installation; photo courtesy of Deepwater Wind.

Wind Turbine Frame 2

Another view of the foundation installation; photo taken by CVA Project Manager Rain Byars.

3. Confirm Quality Control During Fabrication and Installation

CVA will perform periodic inspections and verification during fabrication, transportation, installation and commissioning. Managing documentation and quality control for the many suppliers that contribute to each project phase is a major responsibility designated to the CVA.

Because manufacturing is a global effort, it is important for the CVA to consider the diverse range of suppliers involved and how the inspection plan can be designed for the greatest impact on quality.

Installation can also prove challenging, particularly when installing the foundation substructure on the seabed, making CVA review a crucial component. Given the years that may be involved in designing and building an offshore wind structure, installation can be a relatively quick process. However, this project phase requires careful management of logistics and planning to install the equipment onboard the platform.

Lessons Learned

As a groundbreaking offshore development for the U.S. renewable energy industry, the Block Island project offers key lessons that are significant in understanding the various stages of designing, deploying and operating an offshore wind farm in the region.

Chief among these were planning and preparation with the right teams in place and stakeholder engagement, communication and cooperation to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the long-term effects of adding a megastructure to the area and how this may impact the public and marine environment. One of the environmental considerations of the Block Island Wind Farm was installing advanced technology onboard the platform to help scientists track bird and bat activity offshore. Another added layer of complexity is weather conditions.

As Block Island delivers power to the New England grid, ABS Group will continue to monitor operations and conduct periodic maintenance reviews to verify that operations are consistent with engineering best practices. Every five years, the CVA will conduct a witnessing program with the equipment manufacturer and deliver additional reporting to the regulatory agency.

Learn More

ABS Group presented the final verification certificates and reports to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) at the semi-monthly CRMC council meeting in January 2018.

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