How Ørsted uses drones in offshore wind to save time and money


Mikkel Haugaard Windolf, Product Line Manger, Offshore Logistics,  Ørsted

This week, Ørsted became the first offshore wind company in the world to use giant autonomous drones to transport cargo to wind turbines. With an equivalent weight of a large baby giraffe and the wingspan of an albatross, they can carry quite a load – 68 kg to be exact. The drones are currently being trialled at our Hornsea 1 Offshore Wind Farm in the UK. 

The heavy-lift cargo drones will be used to carry out multiple cargo deliveries to wind turbines, transporting spare parts and tools to and from the crew transfer vessels (CTVs) and service operation vessels (SOVs), which are already on site. Transporting a spare part from a boat to the top of the nacelle usually takes at least 30 minutes. Using drones, we can get the spare parts required directly to the nacelle much faster, reducing the need to sail to and from the wind turbine generators (WTGs) and avoiding crane operation. 

This isn’t the first time we’ve trialled drones at Ørsted. Last year, we partnered with DSV, the global Danish transport and logistics company, to test long-distance drone transport of spare parts and tools at Anholt Offshore Wind Farm. 

Why we use drones in offshore wind 

Today, Ørsted is ranked as one of the world’s most sustainable energy companies, and we’re targeting net-zero emissions by 2040. As part of our vision to create a world that runs entirely on green energy, we’re constantly exploring new ways to increase renewable power production and reduce carbon emissions from service logistics. And we believe drones have a powerful role to play.

As the name suggests, offshore wind farms are usually located far from shore, requiring service technicians and necessary spare parts to be transported by ship. Technicians bring their tools and the components most often needed for the wind turbines, but if special spare parts are required, they must go back onshore to get them. On top of this, most spare parts need to be transported from the vessel via cranes to the nacelle. This can be a costly and time-consuming exercise, and the repairs are therefore often delayed until the next day. 

I’ve summarised the top three benefits of using drones as an alternative method of logistics support in offshore wind below: 

  1. Reduce costs and increase availability – Maintaining the technology and machinery that it takes to run a wind farm is not exactly a cheap exercise. But using drones to transport goods helps us to reduce some of the operational costs associated with traditional methods. Using drones, we can spend less time craning goods and tools up and down, freeing up time to tend to the WTG. We can also ensure the timely delivery of missing spare parts and tools, leading to more successful execution and more power production from the wind turbines.

  2. Reduce environmental impacts – Drones allow us to quickly and efficiently deliver the spare parts needed for wind turbine repairs, reducing the need for sailing vessels back to shore to get the material needed, and thus minimising the associated carbon emissions from operating offshore wind farms. By addressing potential issues faster, we’re also minimising the downtime of wind turbines and producing more green energy.

  3. Improve operational safety and efficiency – Cargo drones help to avoid risks associated with maintenance tasks, making it safer for personnel and minimising the need for multiple journeys from boat or helicopter to the wind turbine. Drones can also improve the overall operational efficiency of wind farms and eliminate the need for wind turbines to be shut down when cargo is delivered.  

Looking forward

Ørsted was the first company to instal wind turbines at sea. Our first offshore wind projects came with significant risk, but we saw a route to leveraging innovation to deliver that technology as a cornerstone in the green transformation. Now, we’re the largest offshore wind developer in the world – our 1,800 wind turbines can be found all around the globe, off the coasts of Europe and the US, and in the Asia-Pacific region. 
As a pioneer in offshore wind, we must continue to push the envelope by investing in innovations that will help accelerate the green transition at the speed and scale required. Day in and day out, I see us applying this mindset to everything we do at Ørsted, including the way we maintain and optimise our wind turbines.  

At Ørsted, we see drones continuing to play an important role in offshore wind in the future. We’ll continue to use our position to help push forward innovations that can make the net-zero transition cheaper and faster, whether than be in offshore wind or one of our other growing renewable energy solutions.