DONG Energy, North Sea
Battling gales and waves, a project team installs the world's largest offshore wind farm in the middle of the sea.
TALK ABOUT AN AWKWARD SILENCE.
At the inauguration ceremony for DONG (Dansk Olie og Naturgas) Energy's Horns Rev 2 wind farm last September, Danish Crown Prince Frederick flipped the switch…and nothing happened.
The project team waited with bated breath to learn if the months of hard work would pay off. An excruciating 30 seconds of silence passed—until, finally, an ocean breeze blew through the farm, launching the turbines and drawing a collective sigh of relief among the spectators.
It was a triumphant moment in what had been a long and difficult project fraught with danger and risk from day one.
Even in what's looking like a new era of global commitment to large-scale sustainable energy projects, the Horns Rev 2 209-megawatt wind farm stands out. Located 30 kilometers (19 miles) off the coast of western Jutland, Denmark in the North Sea, it currently ranks as the largest offshore wind project in the world. (Not for long, though: The London Array in England's Thames Estuary is set to beat out Horns Rev 2 for the top slot by 2012.)
The project marks a major step in DONG Energy's effort to triple its production capacity of clean energy by 2020. It's also helping Denmark meet its goal to have half of its total power supply generated by wind energy by 2025.
More than 600 people and seven suppliers were involved in the project, says Henrik Lehmann, lead project manager, DONG Energy, Copenhagen, Denmark. That included five additional project managers, plus a quality control and commissioning manager. And although the DKK3.9 billion price tag made it a substantial project, it wasn't the scope that most worried Mr. Lehmann.
“We had to minimize errors going offshore to zero, because once you go offshore you have to cope with weather, logistics and time, which increased the scale of problems tenfold.”
—Henrik Lehmann, DONG Energy, Copenhagen, Denmark
“The biggest challenge on this project was not the size—it was the offshore site,” he says. “Working offshore is a completely different way to approach a project. Climate conditions are much more severe, and safety was a big factor. It impacted the way we did everything.”
The Horns Rev 2 project is located farther offshore than any wind farm, in a spot where icy waters reach a depth of 17 meters (56 feet), with waves 3 meters (10 feet) high. And the very same wind speeds of about 36 kilometers (22 miles) per hour that made this an ideal site for a renewable energy project also made it risky. Many days the onshore weather would be calm and sunny, while high winds and waves made work impossible at the platform.
“The North Sea is notorious for having rough water, but even though we knew that we were still surprised by it,” says Mr. Lehmann.
A trip to the site could take up to three hours. Not only was it far away, but supplies and laborers had to be loaded and unpacked, and the waves could be brutal. Those conditions severely limited the number of hours teams could work and magnified the complexity of every decision—and every mistake.
“We had to minimize errors going offshore to zero,” he says, “because once you go offshore you have to cope with weather, logistics and time, which increased the scale of problems tenfold.”
There were also many more safety issues to consider, particularly because contractors were working under such extreme conditions, far from medical care, on a site in the middle of a frigid sea.
Mr. Lehmann came in with little knowledge about working offshore, so he surrounded himself with experts who could identify the risks at the beginning and devise a project plan to minimize them. The onsite team included 50 DONG employees, each chosen for a specific skill set.
“I knew it was important to have the right competencies on the team so that we could make the right decisions for the project and manage what was unforeseen,” he says.
With the right people in place, Mr. Lehmann empowered them to make decisions and held them accountable for achieving their goals.
Building that kind of atmosphere fostered confidence and responsibility, says Poul Rasmussen, external consultant at Niras, a Copenhagen-based environmental consultancy that worked on the project.
“This has helped give all personnel involved in the project a common sense of ownership,” he says.
To ensure standards were met, all project managers were required to develop a quality action plan for every “key event,” defining exactly how they would ensure the tasks under their responsibility would meet expectations.
Part of the process called for component reviews. When a part was delivered, it had to pass a rigorous quality inspection. If anything was missing or wrong, those problems had to be addressed before the component could be sent offshore.
“Meeting those quality expectations was a part of our contracts and we set those requirements very early on in the project,” says Mr. Lehmann. “It forced our suppliers to ensure they had the time and methods in place to cope with our quality-control process.”
That's not to say the strict procedures didn't rock the boat, though.
“It was a big change for our people to have such a focus on quality management,” Mr. Lehmann says. “It required total leadership support and buy-in to make it work.”
When trouble did occur, Mr. Lehmann made sure it was addressed immediately—and sometimes in a creative way. For example, during the commissioning process, a grid connection failed. Although the connection was the responsibility of the grid company and not DONG Energy, Mr. Lehmann knew the problem could push the project off schedule.
The grid company's plan to replace all 105 cable joints before re-energizing the cables would take two months. Instead, the project team negotiated a compressed two-week plan, with the company re-energizing the cable system at the same time it fixed the joints.
“Too often on these kinds of projects, parties become non-constructive because they are focused on throwing claims at each other instead of sitting down and finding a resolution,” he says. “If you can cooperate when problems arise, you will generate a lot more value.”
Construction began in May 2008, and the wind farm began operation last September—meeting the project's delivery goals. The team installed 91 turbines with blades that hover 115 meters (377 feet) above the water over a massive 35-square-kilometer (14-square-mile) area. At full capacity, the wind farm will supply electricity to more than 200,000 households.
Now that the project is complete, Mr. Lehmann recognizes the tremendous value it brought—not just to the country, but to the company and his team as well.
“Through this project we developed our own competencies and we built the skills of the project management team and the staff,” he says.
The experience of working on Horns Rev 2 enabled many people on his core team to move into higher-ranking positions, including two engineers who have been tapped to lead future projects.
“Our success optimized the value of the project for the company, not only in terms of key outputs but also in developing our education, methods, skills and systems,” Mr. Lehmann says. “A lot of what we accomplished here will now become part of the standard way in which these projects are delivered in the future.” —Sarah Fister Gale
PM NETWORK APRIL 2010 WWW.PMI.ORG
APRIL 2010 PM NETWORK