A MetOcean sensor system has been designed and deployed in Moray Firth in the north east coast of Scotland, thanks to the creativity and talents of the Fern Communications (FernCom) team in Lowestoft and Aberdeen.

The bespoke package places in-field sensors at six locations to measure wave height and direction, wind speed, wind temperature and direction to boost efficiency, increase safety and reduce costs to operators, who can make informed decisions about the exact weather state inside the 296 sq km wind farm.

FernCom, an OEG Group company, celebrated 20 years of business last year and recently opened a new office in Aberdeen as part of its commitment to the offshore energy transition. MetOcean sensors and FernCom’s software dashboard is now being promoted to the wider offshore renewable industry.

Eastern Daily Press: FernCom Wave RadarFernCom Wave Radar (Image: FernCom)

The software was developed over a three-month period by FernCom’s technical manager James Cleverly, with support from engineering manager Lee Cheung and technical director Clive Cushion.

“The worst thing that can happen to a crew is that they get on the crew transfer vessel (CTV), get out onto the wind farm and the weather comes up earlier than the forecast indicated,” said James. “Then it’s a sail and fail – and you can’t work.

“Our system covers such a wide area and gives you such immediate data, you can look at the forecast to see the weather is increasing and look at the actual conditions on site. You know then there’s no point sending the team out – you’ve just saved four hours of diesel, a whole load of personnel time and risk.”

Eastern Daily Press: FernCom anemometerFernCom anemometer (Image: FernCom)

James added that the site in Moray Firth is such a large wind farm that it might be the case that the south part of the wind farm is workable, but the north isn’t.

“Looking at the live data and forecast means you can plan work around the weather,” he explained.

James began his career working for UTEC creating marine surveys before going into offshore surveying and undertaking subsea work. He was at a local IT company which introduced him to FernCom six years ago.

“I guess I’m quite a creative person,” he said. “I have been in the marine industry for 17 years – that combined with my IT experience means I have been able to pull my resources and experience together to come up with something unique.”

Eastern Daily Press: James Cleverly, technical manager at FernComJames Cleverly, technical manager at FernCom (Image: FernCom)

Technical director Clive Cushion said: “There are other wind farms that use wave radar systems, but we are the first to do this level of integration with radio frequency (RF) and written bespoke software to allow us to collate the data and send it ashore over RF. Traditionally that data was via a fibre network.

“James collaborated with the sensor manufacturer Radac, based in Holland. FernCom bespoke software allowed sensor data to be transmitted over RF – something that had not been possible before.”

Clive added that Fern has the in-house capability to design and integrate systems and also the ability to design its own software. “It is a completely bespoke software package designed from the ground up,” he said.

Eastern Daily Press: Technical director FernComTechnical director FernCom (Image: FernCom)

“It’s such a fast-paced, exciting sector,” Clive continued. “Where we are located here on the east coast, we’ve got it all. We’re an all-energy offshore technology company, and we have geared ourselves to be prepared for all projects from renewable energy to nuclear and hydrogen.

“We understand ocean technology that can be integrated into one whole package and that comes from the ability to manufacture and design our own products.”

Commenting on the software developed for the wind farm, engineering manager Lee Cheung said: “It’s not just that it collects the data, displays it and records it in its own right, but it’s also capable of handling that data transfer onto third-party weather forecasters as well, in a way that they can then resolve data easily to help them in their forecasting.”

Lee explained that FernCom is unique because it sits between a lot of different parties – the manufacturers of the sensors, the customers, their partners – and brings them all together as the systems integrator.

Eastern Daily Press: Engineering manager Lee CheungEngineering manager Lee Cheung (Image: FernCom)

“I’ve worked with a lot of engineers over the last 18 years and the best engineers I’ve seen, particularly in this industry, come from an IT background,” he said.

“That specific skills set lends itself well to problem-solving, working through things logically, taking tools off the shelf and using them in ways they haven’t been used before to provide solutions.

“We’ve got a blue-sky list of products and projects, and if we believe it’s a worthwhile project, we’ll look to get the green light and we’ll bring it to market. There’s quite a lot on the table at the moment, and we’re looking at wind projects globally.”