Feature: Wind turbine workers harvesting power from the sea

(Xinhua) 09:43, February 02, 2024

JINAN, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- Catching up with the final weather window before China's Spring Festival, Wu Peng and Wang Chuan set sail once again into the Yellow Sea, heading toward the cluster of towering offshore wind turbines known as the "big windmills."

These massive structures, also referred to as offshore wind turbine units, symbolize China's position as a global leader in the renewable energy sector. With a focus on developing five major offshore wind power bases, the offshore wind farm in east China's coastal province of Shandong is where Wu and Wang carried out their duties as on-site operators for the clean energy giant, State Power Investment Corporation.

Both 28 years old, Wu hails from northeast China's Jilin Province, while Wang comes from Qingdao, Shandong. Beyond their routine onshore duties, their most crucial task involves venturing out to inspect the "big windmills" during the brief period of calm winds.

The whims of the sea breeze, essential for the turbines' operation, often create turbulent waves that impede workers and vessels from heading offshore. Hence, days with less wind become the optimal window for offshore wind turbine inspection and maintenance.

Departing from Rushan City in Shandong, Wu and Wang took over two hours by boat to reach the site. As the sun set, their boat docked at the heart of the project -- the offshore booster station.

The prominent steel structure collects and boosts the electricity generated by 53 turbines in the first phase, channeling it through underground cables to households on the land.

Upon boarding the booster station, the inspection began. The expansive space and advanced equipment extended the inspection until late at night.

"Winter brings strong sea winds, and the window for inspections is limited," said Wu, adding that it has been over a week since their last visit, and this was their final inspection before the upcoming festival.

As night fell, the sea and sky blended into a seamless canvas, with only the synchronized red signal lights of the "big windmills" punctuating the darkness. The booster station serves both as the inspection site and the lodging place for the night.

The rest area features desalinated drinking water, sewage facilities, Wi-Fi, mobile phone signals, a kitchen, dormitories, air conditioning and electricity generated by the turbines.

"We only stay here occasionally," said Wang, noting that the wind farm nowadays operates unmanned, with onshore stations monitoring operations remotely and manual inspections serving as an additional layer of security.

Wu said in the past four years, he has been involved in the construction of three large offshore wind projects on the Shandong Peninsula.

Recalling the first project in 2021, Wu said that there were no windows in the rest area but the rapid technological advancements and design iterations have improved the living conditions significantly each year.

"It's always a rewarding moment for me to enjoy the beauty at sea, especially during sunrise and sunset," he said.

China has now become the country with the largest installed capacity of offshore wind power. Meng Aojie, a 28-year-old project supervisor traveling alongside Wu, has supervised offshore wind projects in six coastal cities in China.

"Offshore wind power is seeing rapid advancements compared to traditional energy industries, with new projects continuously attracting young talents from across the country," Meng said.

"Construction at sea is challenging," Wu said. "When the project was connected to the grid and began generating electricity last November, I could feel a sense of achievement."

"During the five-year warranty period for the turbines, maintenance is provided by the manufacturers, and nearly 100 workers are maintaining and servicing the turbines, all young people in their 20s," Wu said.

Offshore wind power represents the technological high ground in the wind energy industry, with maintenance being a highly technical job. He Jinliang, an engineer from the eastern province of Fujian, has especially come to support maintenance work from his hometown.

"In the past few years, I mainly traveled to various offshore wind projects in Fujian, and now, the company's business scope is expanding, and I travel all along the coast nationwide," he said.

"The maintenance is almost done. After completing this weather window, everyone can return to their hometowns and reunite with their families," He said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Zhong Wenxing)


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