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We’re going underground

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World Trenchless,

Wind power is one of the fastest-growing renewable energies and a has become a mainstay of the energy transition required to reach the world’s climate goals. Its usage is on the rise worldwide, in part because costs are falling, and in part because wind turbine capacity has increased over time.


Figure 1. A Grundodrill HDD rig establishing the pilot bore for installing new power lines to expand a wind farm.

However, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), COVID-19 measures led to onshore construction activity slowing down from February to April 2020, but project developers and equipment manufacturers adapted to the ‘new normal’ and accelerated construction activity from May onwards. For 2021, the IEA even forecasts a further acceleration of wind additions from 65 GW in 2019 to 68 GW, driven by delayed onshore projects becoming operational. Using so-called trenchless technologies for installing the required transport cables underground can make a significant contribution to catch up with these delays and to tap the wind power’s full potential in a profitable and ecologically sustainable way.

Sustainable trenchless technologies

Considering that up to 80% of the costs for conventional open-trench pipe and cable installations fall on the civil engineering works, the cost saving potentials when applying the trenchless methods are easy to imagine. The various underground pipeline construction methods, which are summarised under the technical term ‘NODIG-technology’, allow for all types of pipelines to be installed quickly, gently, and cost-efficiently up to the connection at the user’s premises. The economic and ecological advantages of trenchless technology over open construction are clearly shown:

  • Valuable surfaces are protected, extensive excavation and re-instatement work is avoided.
  • Low emissions of noise, CO2 and fine dust, as well as less consumption of natural capital.
  • Short construction and set-up times, quick execution, and high adherence to time schedules.
  • On-target and reliable installation methods, proven application.
  • Maximum planning and technical security due to high regulation conformity.
  • Lower direct and indirect costs compared to the open-trench method.

The challenges with renewable energies in general, and wind power in particular, are mainly due to ever-growing capacity requirements. No matter if the wind power was generated onshore or offshore, it is often unavoidable to install new power cables. But quite often too, tedious discussions and disputes with nature preservation authorities or local residents who oppose new power poles in the landscape, delay the power being provided to where it should be as quickly as possible. This is where the trenchless technologies provide another advantage: with new overhead lines being omitted when using those minimally invasive underground installation methods, the acceptance of wind farms in the public can be increased in the long-term.

To read the rest of this article, which is on p.48 of Energy Global’s Spring 2021 issue, simply click here.

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