Timeline: 1 month (August-September)
Hardware: Mobile VR (Oculus Quest 1 & 2 and Pico Neo 2 & 3)
Industry: Renewable Energy, Wind Power Energy
Services: Bespoke Development
The wind energy industry is one of today’s leading industries in the renewable energy sector, providing an affordable and sustainable energy solution. The UK is the world leader in offshore wind, with more installed capacity than any other country. Already, offshore wind powers the equivalent of 4.5 million homes annually, with last year (2020) being the “greenest year on record” for Britain, with record high levels of wind energy generation. In this sense, this renewable energy source is anticipated to have an active role in the UK’s sustainable future, given also the fact that it is cheaper than gas, nuclear, coal and other alternatives. Understandably, between 2016 and 2021 nearly £19bn is being invested in offshore wind in the UK.
However, this industry faces several challenges, one being fire, due to the three elements of fire (also known as the “fire triangle”) – fuel, oxygen and heat – present and confined in the small turbine nacelle. In fact, fire in wind turbines is the second most common type of accident reported after blade failure. This can cast a shadow on its green credentials and be a life-threatening risk for its engineers and operators.
Up until 2013, no human deaths were a result of a wind turbine fire incident. That all changed when two of the four mechanics servicing a wind turbine in Ooltgensplaat, Netherlands, were killed during a turbine assessment operation. The mechanics, aged 19 and 21, got trapped on the top of the turbine after a fire broke out, and both died as a result.
A fire in a wind turbine is even more dangerous than a common fire on land. In fact, the chances of a fire department being able to extinguish the fire in a wind turbine is unlikely due to the height of the wind turbines, the remote locations, and in some cases, the rough terrain they are located on. There are ways to prevent accidents and mishandling emergencies: effective and life-changing training for turbine engineers.
We developed training modules targeted at candidates who have no previous experience of hydraulic, mechanical, electrical or installation systems but may also be used to upskill candidates who have some knowledge and need to train in a safe environment for wind turbines operations. This immersive training forces the user to focus on the environment, the tasks and the emergencies that may occur in a wind turbine and, due to the high focus VR guarantees, is only 15 minutes. However, these 15 minutes of training can truly be lifesaving for future staff involved in wind power operations.
Nowadays, thanks to innovation and immersive tech, we can make sure accidents like the one in Ooltgensplaat don’t happen again, resulting in improved wind turbine operations, assessments and learning how to effectively and safely handle an emergency, for example a fire, inside the small wind turbine.
The experience offers an in-depth look into the application and understanding of the types of personal protective equipment needed to ascend and carry out work on a nacelle wind turbine. Each element is based on real world equipment, these include: climbing compliant helmet, safety glasses, gloves, climbing harness, work positioning lanyard, fall arrest lanyard and fall arrest device.
The training is centred on reacting to a disaster relief in a confined space. The user is given a choice to react on the spot to a potential life-threatening fire. The unique pathways implemented into the scenario allows the user to make their own decisions in a safe environment. The experience is guided by a voiceover (of a real-life operator!) to ensure they can be fully immersed in and focused on the experience, looking around and learning in a natural way – just like it would happen in the real world. In this sense, instead of reading instructions and getting distracted, the user can listen and act on the spot, making the training more productive and faster than the average real-life modules.
To complement the severity of the disaster relief scenario, Digitalnauts have also implemented a minigame in the experience. This VR experience is especially memorable and warms up the user for the actual training. This last solution is not only a great way to make learning unique and create long-lasting cognitive associations, but also a chance for the engineers to take a break from the stress of their everyday life-threating tasks (due to the nature of their jobs), which a VR experience focused on simulating an emergency could amplify. You have to be careful though, you might get hooked!
One of the biggest challenges for our development team during this project was time. This project’s variety of materials, assets and features for the application needed to be completed quickly without sacrificing quality.
In fact, the Nacelle VR training as described above is still in its proof-of-concept stage. However, we take pride in the amount of work and effort we put into the early stages of development of a project in the renewable sector that really aims for a better future. And that’s how this case study came to be.
he application is currently being user as part of a blended learning solution in the enhancement for the GWO Approved Working at Height Course. The experience is used to complement the existing training course that takes delegates through best practice exercises and allows them to perform actions critical to their safety, raising their behavioural based safety and taking their competency well beyond compliance.
Since its completion, the experience was demonstrated at The WindEurope #electriccity2021 conference in Copenhagen which took take on November 23-25 2021.
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