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Offshore logistics drones

The EnBW research project on drone technology in the offshore wind sector

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Offshore wind energy is playing a key role in helping us to achieve our climate goals. Wind farms at sea have a twenty-year service life. They are often situated far from the coast. We have always developed smart solutions to ensure the efficient operation and maintenance of these wind farms, whether in the form of modern maintenance concepts or service ships. We have realized that we can conduct our business activities even more flexibly and directly with future technologies such as drones, while at the same time significantly cutting carbon emissions. That is why we launched an offshore logistics drones research project. This project „Upcoming Drones Windfarm“ is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

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The research project

Drone technology will play an even larger role worldwide, particularly in the area of logistics. Many sectors see real potential for the transportation of people and materials. The EnBW research project will examine whether the use of drones is promising for the offshore wind sector and especially establish which requirements will need to be met.

Logistical challenges associated with ever larger offshore wind farms are expected to be met by automated transport drones in the future to reduce operating costs.

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Our approach

Business models are being drawn up within the research project and the efficiency of drones examined.

From a technological perspective, the transport drones should be able to carry loads in the form of tools, maintenance consumables and spare parts, but later also personnel, to and from their work locations in the wind farm. For such uses, the project is evaluating suitable configurations and load-bearing systems for the drone and shaping the interaction between offshore wind farm and drone.

Interfaces must be created at both hardware and software level to enable the use of transport drones. Legal framework conditions must also be taken into consideration in these concepts. How will drones and wind farms be certified for this purpose in the future? Which international conditions must be taken into account for such OWP in the future? The automation concept is developed and validated in a simulated environment set up as part of the project. At the same time, operational aspects relevant to the implementation of the transport mission are worked on. The aim here is to achieve a high degree of efficiency and maximum operational safety.

Our partner

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  • The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is involved in the research project.
  • We are also pleased to have associate partners on board. The Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) is supervising our project in its role as the licensing authority for wind farms in the German exclusive economic zone.
  • The Dutch wind turbine manufacturer 2-B Energy is contributing its expertise gained from the development of landing pads on wind turbines.
  • The global full service provider Hellmann Worldwide Logistics is developing a logistic concept for offshore delivery via drones.
  • TenneT, as a leading European transmission system operator, is investigating the use of heavy-duty drones as an addition to its portfolio of transport means for its growing network of offshore transformer platforms and is preparing the concept for their use.

Let´s take off for future – with the research project Offshore Logistics Drones!

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Communication between wind farm system and unmanned helicopter successfully demonstrated at Schwienau onshore wind farm

The unmanned DLR superARTIS helicopter approaches the wind turbine

In October 2023, the unmanned DLR superARTIS small helicopter took off from the EnBW Schwienau II and III wind farms in Lower Saxony/Germany.

The aim was to test the communication between the drone and the wind farm, which had previously been worked out in theory and programmed at DLR and EnBW. The communication interface created enabled the superARTIS to receive data such as wind speed, wind direction, wind turbine orientation and rotor speed and then select its flight route.

During the test, the superARTS first made sure that the rotor of the wind turbine to be approached was stationary. The helicopter then safely approached the wind turbine from the side facing away from the wind until a predetermined distance was reached. If the drone had not received clearance for this, it would have automatically flown into a holding pattern.

The test did not take place at sea, but on land to make the experiments safer and easier to carry out. For a realistic scenario, the researchers attached a payload to the drone. The results can be transferred to offshore installations. The communication between superARTIS and the wind turbine was designed for offshore operation and is being analysed in simulations.

The Offshore Drone Challenge

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We are inviting drone manufacturers and service providers to demonstrate how their technology can transport heavy loads and people. In 2023, we will officially announce the task and technical framework and call on interested parties to register. We are planning on holding the Offshore Drone Challenge in Germany in the summer of 2024. The event is divided into two parts. On the one hand, the drone manufacturers will demonstrate their technological solutions during live flights, which our jury members will evaluate.

In addition, we are offering the companies a platform to showcase themselves and bring together the various players. Drone companies and logistics specialists from the industry will gather at lectures and workshops and share their thoughts and ideas on the requirements, use cases and latest developments.

We will be contacting drone companies in 2022 to tell them about the project. The representatives will attend workshops, where they will get exclusive insights into the research project and we will share our initial findings with them. This will ensure that the drone companies are made aware of the special offshore requirements at an early stage.

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The Timeline

The framework conditions for participation in the Offshore Drone Challenge were announced in September 2022. Interested parties and investors will thus receive key figures for their strategic planning, for engineering teams and for their own corporate communications at an early stage. In addition, it is planned that the high-ranking jury - a panel of experts from business and science - will still be formed in 2022. The leading trade fairs for wind energy and urban air mobility are further milestones on the way to the challenge in the summer of 2024. In the meantime, there will be a broad call for participation among experts. Below is the rough release schedule. If you would like to be kept up to date on this, please email us.

Be part of it!

Are you a drone manufacturer, service provider or investor? Are you looking for a viable business model for this pioneering technology? Do you feel confident operating on an industrial scale with multinational players in the logistics sector?

If so, then our Offshore Drone Challenge is just right for you!

You will get answers to all of your questions on the subject of offshore logistics drones. This provides a valuable starting point for your product development. We will give you key insights free of charge from the ongoing research project. You will be given the opportunity to come up with a solution for this demanding use case and present the results to industry players.

Participating companies will also benefit beyond the Offshore Drone Challenge itself, because by taking part you will be positioning your company as one of the first in a future market that is seeing strong growth.

Get all the information you need to enter the Offshore Drone Challenge!

We will be happy to send you our Offshore Drone Challenge Entry Documents on request. Simply send an e-mail to ! In the document for those entering the Offshore Drone Challenge you will find all the essential terms and conditions of entry, a detailed description of the flight task along with a copy of the evaluation matrix and the binding registration form at the end of the document.

We look forward to receiving your message!

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Your contact

Fax: Mobile: Phone:
Fax: Mobile: Phone:
Vincenz Schneider
Project Lead
Fax: Mobile: Phone:
Jonas Janke
Project Manager
Fax: Mobile: Phone:
Marcus Ihle
Project External Affairs

EnBW Offshore Drone Forum

Amsterdam Drone Week

A look back at “Amsterdam Drone Week”

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“Drone industry meets wind energy”. We continued the dialog at Amsterdam Drone Week on Wednesday, 22 March 2023. The Offshore Drone Forum #2 organized by the project partners DLR and EnBW focused on the use case of offshore logistics drones from the perspectives of technical and commercial feasibility, regulatory requirements and potential business models for operations.

The forum brought together the various viewpoints of the offshore wind industry, the drone sector and investors. “Together with our partner the DLR and other speakers, we used the forum to discuss the framework conditions that appear particularly promising for the use of transport drones in offshore wind energy and also saw practical examples,” says the host of the forum, Marcus Ihle. “We were particularly pleased that our event was able to strengthen the network of players. We hope it will also promote innovation and provide a better understanding of the use case.”

Speakers

Barbara Zuiderwijk

Green Giraffe

Florian-Michael Adolf

autonomy79.aero | Volocopter

Dr. Michael Splett

EnBW

Dr. Falk Götten

Luftfahrt-Bundesamt (Federal Aviation Office of Germany)

Johann Dauer

DLR

Alexandra Hof

GE Renewables

Dr. Oliver Heinrich

BHO Legal

Moritz Moroder

FlyingBasket

Holger Meyer

Hellmann Logistics

Helge Hackbarth

Lufthansa Industry Solutions

A look back at “Amsterdam Drone Week 2023”

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A review of the “EnBW Offshore Drone Forum #1”

As part of WindEnergy Hamburg 2022, EnBW held the “EnBW Offshore Drone Forum,” bringing together experts from the wind energy industry with those from the drone industry for the first time. The “EnBW Offshore Drone Forum” provided an intensively used platform for promoting dialogue between engineers, the business world, scientists and regulators. Together with high-level speakers from the industry, people were given the opportunity to discuss how advanced air mobility technologies can be used to transport people and materials to and from offshore wind farms.

“There were numerous opportunities at the event for people to chat with the EnBW and DLR teams as well as other experts and familiarize themselves with this valuable use case. This opportunity was seized with considerable interest, which makes us very happy,” says EnBW project manager Jonas Janke. “For us, it is about embracing interdisciplinary thinking within a network and creating synergies that will enable us all to take another important step toward innovation and sustainability.”

Players in the drone industry were given initial insights into offshore wind energy, while interested parties and investors obtained KPIs at an early stage that will aid their strategic planning, engineering teams and their own corporate communications. A top-class jury is set to be assembled in 2023, made up of experts from the worlds of business and science.

Speakers

Manfred Hader

Roland Berger

Dr. Oliver Heinrich

BHO Legal

Steffen Reinert

Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH)

Dr. Marco Volpengo

Italdesign

Dr. Michael Splett

EnBW

Herbert Peels

2-B Energy

Johann Dauer

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Dr.-Ing. Susan Wegner

Lufthansa Industry Solutions

Thorsten Indra

HHLA Sky

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FAQ

Do you have any questions about the research project on offshore logistics drones? You can find the answers here!

What does the research project involve?

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The aim of the research project is to establish the necessary framework conditions for using transport drones in offshore wind farms. This includes the technical interfaces between the drone and the offshore wind farm as well as the legal requirements and the business aspects relating to the use of transport drones.

Which partners are involved?

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EnBW is carrying out the research project in conjunction with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH), the wind turbine manufacturer 2-B Energy, the transmission system operator TenneT and the full service provider Hellmann Worldwide Logistics are involved as associate partners.

Who are the jury members of the Offshore Drone Challenge?

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The jury of the Offshore Drone Challenge is made up of representatives from future users of the transport drones as well as experts in the fields of aviation and renewable energies and specialists from the insurance and finance world. This composition makes it possible to take into account the requirements for each use case as well as the difficulties faced by the participants.

The jury members will be announced on this website in the course of further planning measures.

What advantage do drones have over today’s logistics services with special ships and helicopters?

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Ships used today generally not only have to be a means of transport, but also a hotel and material store at the same time. The reason for this is the long distance between the work location and the coast. Transfer by ship takes several hours, which is why daily transfer by ship to the wind farm is generally not economical. Engineers are accommodated and fed on the ship during their shift. Accordingly, personnel are also constantly needed to keep the ship running. The ship must also have the right equipment to enable the workers to cross over to the turbines in the wind farm even in heavy seas. This high degree of specialization makes the ships that are used very expensive. Nevertheless, ships currently remain the cheapest alternative in terms of logistics.

Helicopters are already available for transporting material and tools. They can be used very flexibly. Engineers and material can be dropped off directly at the work location – on the nacelle of a wind turbine, for instance. Transfer by helicopter to the wind farm takes a fraction of the time of transfer by ship due to the high speed of travel. The biggest drawback of helicopters is the cost. High fuel consumption and maintenance work are significant cost drivers.

Drones offer advantages in terms of cost and flexibility compared to the logistics options currently used. The high speed of travel means transfers are as fast as those involving helicopters. By switching to transport drones, it would also be possible to service offshore wind farms located a long distance from the coast without the need for accommodation in the wind farm. The anticipated operating costs of drones are lower than those of helicopters because drones are less complex. This has a significant impact on the amount of maintenance work needed for the drones. It is likely that drones will become more and more automated in the future, thereby cutting operating costs. The transport of materials in particular offers considerable potential for automation.

When will the drones be ready for service and when can they be used in offshore wind farms?

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Many drone manufacturers have set themselves the goal of starting commercial operation of their drones within the next few years. The offshore wind farms must first be upgraded before drones can be used. Since the necessary framework conditions will only be determined in the course of the research project, it is difficult to estimate the timescale. Once the framework conditions have been established, they must be incorporated into the development of a new offshore wind farm. Such developments generally take several years.

Why is the research project being carried out when there are already manufacturers developing heavy-duty drones and air taxis?

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It is not sufficient for drones merely to be available for use as transport drones in offshore wind farms. The relevant offshore wind farm must have the right equipment to enable the use of transport drones. Furthermore, the developed drones may require modifications to make them suitable for such use. It is therefore also necessary to familiarize manufacturers with the circumstances of the use case involving offshore wind energy.

What could be an obstacle to the use of drones in the offshore sector? Where do the difficulties lie?

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The drone must have a high load-bearing capacity and long range for transport operations between the offshore wind farm and the coast. There are concepts from different manufacturers that promise to meet these criteria. The kind of drone required is not yet available.

Are drone flights safe?

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The European Union Aviation Security Agency mandates high safety standards for drone flights that carry passengers. Drones used for transporting people must undergo certification similar to that used for aircraft.

Almost all of the currently available drone models are equipped with redundant power systems. In the event of a failure in the drone's power system during the flight, the remaining power systems can compensate for the failure. With many drone models, the flight to the planned destination can even be continued in such cases.

How are drones controlled? Is there a pilot?

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The drones used for transporting passengers are controlled by on-board pilots. It is conceivable that drones used for transporting materials may be controlled by a remote pilot rather than an on-board pilot.

Who will operate the drones? Will EnBW become an aviation company?

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The aim is to purchase drone flights as a service. The drones will be optimally utilized by also being used for other purposes. Idle time can thus be kept to a minimum, which in turn has a positive impact on operating costs.

Does the use of drones make economic sense?

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Preliminary considerations on economic efficiency were discussed in the run-up to the research project. There is considerable potential for transport drones to be used economically in offshore wind farms. However, the use of transport drones does not make sense in every scenario.

Is the use of drones in offshore wind farms sustainable?

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Most currently available drone models are electrically powered. In terms of sustainability, this offers advantages over the currently used logistics options. If the drones run on renewable power, emissions can be reduced when operating the offshore wind farms.