Belgian expertise at the heart of offshore wind farms

Just installing wind turbines offshore is not enough to generate electricity. This electricity must also be converted and transported to our homes, which requires a crucial component of any offshore wind farm: the high-voltage offshore substation. ENGIE Fabricom has made the construction of these superstructures one of its specialities and became a key player in the sector in Europe.

ENGIE Fabricom parcs éoliens offshore windmolenparken jbc sli
ENGIE Fabricom Hoboken jbc sli
ENGIE Fabricom Hoboken jbc sli

Belgium is one of the major players in Europe’s offshore wind power industry thanks to, among others, ENGIE Fabricom, which has managed to apply to the wind farm sector 30 years of experience in the construction and assembly of offshore modules for the oil and gas industry.

ENGIE Fabricom specialises in substations, the cornerstone of any offshore wind farm. The company has already built 19 of these superstructures for offshore wind farms in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and Denmark. Numbers 20 and 21 are currently under construction, while the twenty-second has been ordered. 16 wind farms in total are equipped with substations built by ENGIE Fabricom (a single farm sometimes has several substations), supplying close to 4.2 million households with electricity and cutting annual CO2 emissions by 8.5 million tonnes.

What is an offshore substation?

A substation is a metal superstructure almost 35 metres high and weighing up to 2,900 tonnes, equipped with, for example, an extensive electrical and electromechanic infrastructure. Comprising several floors, substations are installed offshore on pillars and are directly connected to the offshore wind turbines via cables, almost like a spider in the middle of a web.

What is the purpose of a substation?

A substation is a transformer. In real terms, wind turbines generate power at 33 kilovolts (kV). This travels through medium-voltage cables to arrive at the substation, where it is transformed to 220 kV before being sent onshore via a cable installed on the seabed by the system operator. Consumers can then use this green energy.

How do you build a substation?

It takes 20 to 25 months and, depending how it is constructed, between 200 and 400 people to build a substation for an offshore wind farm.

As a substation cannot be constructed offshore, ENGIE Fabricom assembles its substations onshore at its construction site in Hoboken. The modular construction of substations at this site, which is located on the Scheldt close to the Port of Antwerp, is a safe and profitable solution and allows employees to work under the best conditions with regard to both safety and protection from the weather. Up to six substations can be built simultaneously at this site. See for yourself!

Transporting a substation to an offshore wind farm is the most difficult step. The structure is slowly but surely slid onto a barge that transports it to its end destination.

A substation for Norther wind farm

The most recent substation (number 22) ordered from ENGIE Fabricom is destined for Norther, Belgium’s biggest offshore wind farm, where it will be connected to 44 wind turbines generating enough energy every year to power around 350,000 homes. Norther itself will boost the amount of renewable energy available in Belgium by 1.5%. Construction will begin in 2018 with the substation scheduled for commissioning in summer 2019.


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