During the operational lifetime of an offshore wind farm, Wood Thilsted use their engineering design expertise to support transactions, ensuring structural integrity as well as extending design lifetime and overall asset value.
We talked to Simon Faulkner, WT’s Country Manager for Taiwan, about his journey to the projects that he works on today.
What was it that encouraged you to get into this area of work?
For me, it was a career change – not around some grand plan but initially just because I loved the outdoors and found the geology interesting. So in 2000 I took the plunge to become a ‘mature’ student, graduating in 2004 with an Applied Geology degree in my pocket. A year later, a Postgraduate diploma in Applied Geotechnics joined the Batchelor of Science and then I started my new life in earnest with many early morning starts to travel to sites across SW England from Weymouth to Land’s End. Those early morning starts shifted geographically to other sites in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland and, call me crazy, but I loved the experience of being rained on in an open field standing next to an excavator or drill rig whilst knee deep in mud.
Tell us a little about your background in engineering survey management between the UK and Taiwan?
My road to Taiwan started in 2010 when I ventured from the UK to the Netherlands to take up an offshore geotechnical Site Manager’s role. It was here I not only got detailed experience of the North Sea but also the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan. After this, I took up a similar role in Perth, Australia before swapping my Site Manager’s hard hat, boots and overalls for a desk and an air-conditioned office. This was the start of my Project Manager career.
Ironically, my first PM role was to rehabilitate the site in NW Australia where I had spent the last two years Site Managing multiple geotechnical investigations. I’ve always enjoyed variety as well as working on meaningful projects and so during my time in Australia, I took a six month secondment role New Zealand, to both build and manage a small office team and project manage site investigations as part of the post 2010/11 earthquake Christchurch rebuild programme. In 2015, I took another six month secondment role in Indonesia where I was the onsite project manager for nearshore geotechnical operations in West Papua. After this I moved to Taiwan to start my “Taiwan offshore wind” journey with a local contractor based in Kaohsiung.
So tell us more about your work in Taiwan.
Prior to Johan (and then me with Johan) establishing the WT office here in 2018, the offshore wind market was already in the preliminary stages of development with multiple EIA surveys taking place in 2016 and 2017 for prospective developers. Starting in 2016, I worked for a Taiwanese contractor for 18 months, which proved to be an invaluable experience in understanding the way in which a Taiwanese contractor would operate when compared to, say, a European or Australian equivalent. Then in 2018, I started to work for WT, managing all site surveys on two key developments. I joined the WT family on a permanent basis in 2020 as Lead Project Manager.
What has your role in Taiwan involved so far?
It’s been an exciting and multi-faceted role. As I said, I’ve been employed as the Lead Project Manager for the Site Investigation Team working on the Chang Fang Xidao and Zhong Neng offshore wind farms. They are both key projects for Taiwan’s transition to green energy and we’re very proud of what we’ve been able to do on these projects. I’ve also been the Site Investigation Package Manager for the Zhong Neng offshore wind farm. Recently I’ve been an integral part of early feasibility discussions on potential Round 3 developments identified by our partners within Taiwan.
So what site investigations have you undertaken over the last few years?
The short version is a broad spectrum. For Chang Fang, Xidao and Zhong Neng it’s included shallow geotechnical investigations for export cable route assessment, deep geotechnical investigations and associated onshore laboratory testing for foundation design. There have been seabed geophysical surveys for Environmental Impact Assessments, Underwater Cultural Heritage requirements, Seabed Mobility analysis and detailed ground model development. Finally, but importantly for the region there have also been shallow and deep seismic surveys, nearshore geotechnical and onshore geotechnical investigations for cabling. That’s not an exhaustive list but this work has significantly built-up WT’s expertise for the very particular conditions around Taiwan.
Does having the rest of the WT team behind you benefit projects in Taiwan?
Absolutely, the WT team in both Taiwan and Europe have grown together over the last four years to combine the global expertise offered by our amazingly talented engineers in Europe with our own Taiwan based skills and local knowledge that really brings the big benefits to clients and partners. These experiences are, in my opinion, unparalleled by any other engineering consultancy currently working within the Taiwan offshore wind market.
In addition, the wider team interact with all EPC packages within the project including advising the cable installation, pin pile installation and jacket installation teams.
So what would you say has been the biggest gain in your specific Taiwan knowledge and skills over the last few years?
For me personally I’d have to say it’s about two key areas. Firstly, Taiwan regulations and government operations. As a team, we deal directly with a multitude of governments departments to comply with the ever-changing rules and regulations imposed on wind farm developers. Secondly, it’s been hugely satisfying to work with local contractors and assist them with raising their awareness of technical, quality and health and safety requirements. The change I’ve witnessed during the last four years has been measurable by the fact that we need to spend less time during the project preparation phase and can concentrate more on managing the actual operations. We have built up an extremely dedicated and professional team of client site representatives over this period who have worked patiently and tirelessly to help with raising the bar – it’s been a real team effort – and one that means we can deliver better, quicker and more cost effectively.
What do you think is next for Taiwan in terms of offshore wind?
The imminent announcement by the Taiwanese authorities of the Round 3 auction selection criteria and the government target of a further 15GW of offshore wind development between 2026-2035 means many more busy years ahead for all concerned with offshore wind farm development in Taiwan. The market here has been identified by many global organisations as one they want to become part of, and this has been even more apparent this year with survey contractors reflagging vessels to add to the existing contractor supply chain and provide healthy competition for the future.
Finally, how about the rest of Southeast Asia. Where do you see the market in five years?
A recent market overview provided details of offshore wind development at various stages in Taiwan, Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. If you add the interest being shown in Australia to this, then the APAC region seems to be following the global trend with a steady stream of potential future developments. Based on current forecasts, it doesn’t take too much imagination to predict further growth and busy times ahead for the next five years.