3D simulator to train recruits for offshore energy industry

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AMBITIOUS plans to establish the region as a centre for the renewable energy industry are being stepped up with the unveiling of proposals for a ground-breaking training facility and development guidelines to attract a wave of multi-million pound investment.

Hull University has announced proposals to develop a 3D virtual reality “cave” that will simulate the hostile working environment in the offshore wind industry, while the city council has produced development briefs that will pave the way for investment in the North Humber Bank Enterprise Zones.

The cave will give people working or training for roles in the industry the chance to experience the dangerous and complex conditions they will face in ship transfers to offshore turbines, and working on the turbines themselves.

The facility will be located in the Hull Immersive Visualisation Environment (Hive) at the computer science department after Hive was awarded £240,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to develop the two-year project. It is part of a multi-million pound investment in renewables which is being led by CASS, the university’s “business-facing” renewable energy and low carbon hub.

Hive co-ordinator Emma-Jane Alexander said: “The aim is to offer a training service to industry and wind farm engineers to equip people with skills and support continuing professional development in the sector with greatly reduced risks and costs.

“The main aspect of the project is the 3D cave which will place people in an enclosed, constrained environment in which they have screens in front, to their sides and below them. This virtual space allows us to simulate the journey to an offshore platform via specialist vessel for instance, or prepare people for the feeling of standing on top of a wind turbine in the open sea and experience what can be a very hostile environment.

“We will also be able to simulate the different weather conditions and sea states that engineers and transport operators will face.”

The council’s planning committee will meet on Tuesday to consider whether to endorse development briefs for eight sites within the enterprise zones that aim to provide certainty to investors over what type of development would be welcomed, and clarity on the constraints and opportunities that exist.

A report said the zones are intended to contribute to developing and exploiting the “once in a lifetime opportunity” in the Humber region to attract thousands of jobs in manufacturing, operations and maintenance presented by the development of offshore wind farms in the southern North Sea.

Last month, it emerged Siemens was one of several manufacturers to have written to the Government calling for an end to the uncertainty over the level of Treasury support which will be available to the offshore wind industry. An announcement on the proposed Hull plant is not expected until the new year. Siemens is working with ABP to develop the Green Port Hull facility, which would manufacture and assemble components for offshore turbines - seen as a flagship project that could help place the Humber at the heart of the UK’s renewable energy industry.

It is expected to create more than 700 engineering jobs and potentially support thousands of others. On the South Bank of the Humber, Able UK plans to build Europe’s largest offshore wind park, creating over 4,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, residents in Kearby, Kirkby Overblow, Sicklinghall and surrounding areas are stepping up their fight against plans to construct two giant wind turbines which they claim will blight one of the best views in Yorkshire. More than 300 objections have been lodged with Harrogate Borough Council in relation to two potential turbines in the Lower Wharfe Valley. It is claimed the area under threat was one of the favourite views of legendary cricket commentator Brian Johnston.