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Building A Wind Farm

Building A Wind Farm

About the Author

Elgan Ellis

  • Elgan Ellis is a senior contracts manager at Jones Bros Civil Engineering. He gained his degree in civil engineering from the Bolton Institute and during his time at Jones Bros, has worked on many projects, particularly in the renewables sector.
    He has gained considerable expertise in developing infrastructure for wind farms, having led on many schemes, especially in Scotland.
  • Find out more: Jones Bros Civil Engineering

The beauty of a completed wind farm, with its streamlined turbines standing tall and proud, often belies the challenges and delicate balancing act involved in ensuring the design and construction runs smoothly from start to finish.

There can be many challenges to overcome when developing a wind farm and I have experienced most of them, having worked in the sector for almost 13 years, from apprentice, to qualified civil engineer to senior contracts manager.

For me, the trickiest challenges come from a lack of relevant information before the job even starts; starting a job in the winter months and managing the working relationships between the disparate teams involved.

One of the most problematic areas has to be the ground investigation report, which should be prepared well in advance. Work cannot begin without it; but the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the report has to be spot on. High quality information on clay, rock, bedrock, shale, groundwater and contamination conditions is needed to ensure economic design and safe construction. We need to know the kind of materials that lie in the ground to determine whether we can use it in the building process and if not, how we dispose of it.

I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important a thorough, comprehensive ground investigation report is to ensure the smooth running of a project schedule.

The accuracy of the information informs the entire construction process, and determines how the whole job will progress. Incomplete information will inevitably cause delays later in the programme of works. Having learned the hard way just how crucial accurate information is, I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important a thorough, comprehensive ground investigation report is to ensure the smooth running of a project schedule- and how critical it is to stress this to a client that might not see the immediate value in apparently “costly” investigations!

Another challenge when building infrastructure for a wind farm is the weather, and, in particular, winter weather. The winter months are generally windier and wetter, making the scheduling of activities such as turbine lifts difficult. Increased quantities of water on site (especially during snow melts) can mean that very careful consideration will need to be given to drainage and water management.

Snow and ice cover will restrict access to site and increase risks, factors we have had to contend with many times, having developed infrastructure for wind farms in some of the harshest, most unforgiving terrains in the UK. We would always advise our clients against starting a project during the winter months for the reasons stated and while some take it on board, others will insist we go ahead. It may be that they have no choice in this as they could be receiving funding for a set period, so the work must go ahead.

If this is the case, we make allowances in our schedule, something we had to do when building Crystal Rig II, in the Scottish borders. Our engineers overcame very severe weather and a remote environment to create one of the UK’s largest wind farms. This was helped considerably by our on site concrete batching plant which meant we had more control and weren’t hampered by concrete trucks not being able to get to site due to poor weather.

Another challenge is ensuring that the different groups of people working on the site at any open time are working together and the lines of communication are fully open. This is critical for health and safety as everyone must know what everyone else is doing and it makes a daily project management meeting essential.

Like any workplace, you do get clashes of personality and a lot of egos, making it important for civil engineers to have people management skills as well as technical know how. I’ve project managed many wind farm projects and have learned the importance of not letting disagreements and difficulties get to you, these things should never be taken personally.

A wind farm completed safely, on or ahead of schedule and within budget, makes for a happy client and we can’t ask for any more than that.

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