Wind power jobs: The offshore service technician - the way is the way round

With classic apprenticeships such as electrician or mechatronics technician, it is also possible to work offshore. But you also have to be tough for this job.

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(Bild: heise online/Johannes Börnsen)


(Hier finden Sie die deutsche Version des Beitrags)

In Germany and Europe, there is concern about a blackout in the face of ongoing discussions about energy shortages as a result of Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine. Depending on how one looks at it, the energy transition in Germany is considered to have been delayed or even to have failed. In many places, horror scenarios are being sketched out.

We decided to look ahead and take a closer look at what is considered one of the big factors for the success of the energy transition: offshore wind power. To get a closer look at what is actually happening, installed and maintained offshore, we visited WindMW GmbH, which operates on Helgoland as well as in Bremerhaven and Zossen.

This series of articles comprises several parts, which we publish from Tuesday to Friday this week.

Published so far:

The training profession "offshore service technician" does not yet exist. As a rule, the employees of WindMW Service GmbH have therefore gained previous experience in other professions or have completed classical training in other areas and have then come to wind power.

Tomasz "Tomek" Sroka, for example, is actually a qualified mechatronics technician and, after training in the automotive sector, worked for onshore wind turbines for quite a while. He is currently undergoing three months of IHK-recognised further training to become an electrical engineering specialist for wind turbines, which is paid for and supported by WindMW. Other employees used to work on onshore platforms for fossil fuel production and now work in the transformer station or the turbines.

Service technician Tomek literally took us by the hand during the first hours at the WindMW station and showed us the offices, common rooms, changing rooms and also the WindMW warehouse. Meanwhile, he told us a lot about his employer.

Permit to entry – not denied

Around 50 people work for WindMW Service GmbH on Helgoland. Many industrial electricians are employed by WindMW, but warehousemen and logisticians are also needed, because it is not possible to simply work at sea. For safety reasons, a "permit to enter" is issued for everything, and warehousing and precise loading of the service ships, which are also limited in space, also play an important role.

The company's own warehouse on Helgoland contains the most important and most common spare parts, greases and oils, but everything that is needed on Helgoland always has to pass through customs. Accordingly, the warehouse staff and other employees try to estimate very precisely what might soon be needed again on site.

Spare parts in stock.

(Bild: heise online/Kristina Beer)

The higher management level takes care of the safe processes in the daily work of the employees and the safety of the technical facilities. At the head office and among the administrative employees, it is precisely noted which service technician has which skills - for which work he or she is quasi cleared.

For the organisation, as it is simplified locally, a kind of "SAP" is used for offshore companies. From the control centre, the software can be used to see exactly where which technician is currently on duty. And the control room in Bremerhaven also receives this data in 24/7 service to know what is happening at sea - for example, to coordinate emergency operations.

Ships always report to the control room when they are in the 500-metre zone around the wind farm. Ships longer than 24 metres are not allowed to enter the park (except for authority ships). The in-house IT department takes care of the remote monitoring (Scada) and also the Tetra radio.

Work at sea is usually done in teams of three, as this is also an external safety recommendation. The colleagues must be able to rely on each other, stand by each other during shifts and should not have any problems providing first aid in an emergency. If there are more serious injuries, the victims have to be flown out to the mainland by helicopter. The helicopter must be at the site within 30 minutes and should also return to the mainland within 30 minutes.

Due to the special situation, all technicians have extended first aid training. Rescue from confined spaces is also specially trained in advance. And tele-medicine is also available for emergencies.

Before they leave for the parks early in the morning, tools and spare parts have already been packed the day before by warehouse staff on the basis of the to-do lists prepared beforehand. And the technicians also pack their food and their own equipment into a personal bag, which is picked up by the warehouse staff. These things are then loaded onto one of the company's ships and later taken to the actual site of operation at the turbines via the lifting cranes on the transition pieces.

For safety reasons, the technicians do not simply stand on the ship, grab two or three tools and then climb up the wind turbine. That would be too dangerous, because even stepping over to the wind turbine poses some dangers.

With offshore service technicians at sea (17 Bilder)

It takes the "Seewind I" three quarters of an hour to cover the 25 kilometres to the Meerwind Süd | Ost wind farm northeast of Helgoland. Johannes Börnsen was on board and reports on his experiences. (Bild: heise-online/ Johannes Börnsen)

So the respective captain of the ships tries to dock carefully to the lower steel tube of the windmill. With soft rubber lugs, the ship then bumps against a ladder secured with protruding struts on the transition piece.

The technicians wait on deck for a signal from the crew and then climb up the ladder from deck - while the ship is sometimes more or less moving up and down. If suddenly a big wave comes that lifts the ship more, the climbers have to pull themselves close to the ladder before they can climb further. At the same time, they already secure themselves - as in a climbing park - on holding ropes attached to the turbine.

The own securing on holding constructions continues again and again on the layout. As Johannes was able to observe live, however, even crossing over to a transition piece is a small adventure.