Can you tell us about the role Red Penguin Marine plays in International telecommunication and power transmission?
We bring operational experience to provide technical expertise to system developers, owners, and their advisers, enabling informed decisions and sometimes augmenting their teams with the necessary skills and experience.
At its core, Red Penguin offers services that promote the understanding, management, and mitigation of diverse, varied, and obscured risks. Much of our work is advising developers of subsea cable projects on strategic and operational risk, but also on cross-industry issues and with dispute resolution. We also provide a range of services from peer review to technical surveillance at all stages of the project lifecycle.
Our people have over 30 years of experience in the telecommunications sector, have brought 10 HVDC interconnectors into commission, have varied involvement across more than 10 offshore wind farms, including here in the US, and development work on offshore wave and tidal energy systems, so we bring a unique cross industry perspective to both the telecoms and energy sectors.
We keep abreast of industry developments through involvement with all stages of a system design, procurement, installation, and asset management. Our work includes challenging the status quo, reviewing, and validating concepts and, when appropriate, ensuring the old ways of doing things are done properly. With a mixed team we are well placed to support this work – in fact, we enjoy and relish the challenge. We also have representatives on some of the major cross sector panels and working groups.
What upcoming projects are you most excited about?
There are almost too many to speak of. Across the globe the pace of subsea cable installation continues unabated. With the Biden administration announcing a goal of installing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030; we are, of course, excited about the scale of the emerging offshore wind market in the United States where we are working with our clients here in Boston on their Offshore Wind projects. Getting the construction started will be another milestone for the industry.
At Red Penguin, we enjoy a challenge and challenging environments. As the requirement to share power and the demand to connect the world digitally continues to grow, cable developers are exploring deeper and more challenging waters with high-capacity telecommunications and mega power cable projects planned or being built from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and even fibre connectivity down to the Antarctic. In Europe new long-distance interconnectors continue to break records for length and depth, presenting exciting challenges as well as opportunities.
We pride ourselves on delivering reliable, experienced-based advice, and offering extensive knowledge of the special challenges of deep-sea cable work. The application of emergent technologies to create efficiencies in system repair and to facilitate energy transmission across or from deep water, is an interesting area of our work, particularly as it has the potential to impact more than one type of technology.
Increasingly we are supporting system operators in their maintenance planning and fault response management: our involvement in 2 significant and successful interconnector repairs in 2021 has shown the value of having an experienced team ready to respond when the transmission asset fails.
What are the challenges involved with subsea infrastructure consulting and construction and how do you overcome them?
It has been said that we know more about space than we do our oceans. Whilst the scientists seem to be doing much to change that, the engineering of subsea systems requires a truly multidisciplinary effort to identify, engineer and resolve the many challenges the environment poses. Teamwork and experience are key, but an open and enquiring mind, patience and attention to detail are equally as important.
As the seabed becomes congested, so seabed users risk conflicting interests. Resolving these through education and understanding is just one area of challenge. The speed of changing regulation and the impact that regulatory requirements have on engineering is another. We keep apace of these changes and are involved in the discussion using our experience and the evidence of previous work to inform decision makers.
The variable nature of the maritime environment and the differing engineering elements that engineers must consider are very much location and project specific, for this reason the importance of survey and accurate data is key. There is no easy answer, no paint-by-numbers solution, first principles must be applied and followed each and every time because no two cable projects are ever the same. Whilst there are synergies, power, telecommunications, and renewables each present significantly different problems and risks.
As may be seen on a submarine cable map, some cables are quite short, others are tens of thousands of miles long: a relatively short telecoms cable at 750km, would be one of the longest interconnectors in the world. Yet the depth and topography of the route it follows, can present as diverse a range of challenges as the cable design and engineering of the installation.
Red Penguin’s commitment to quality includes a strong consideration for the environment and avoiding harm. What measures do you take in implementing this commitment?
We recognize that everybody, and every organisation, has a duty to protect the environment. This means making decisions and investing time and effort to ensure our activities and operations do not cause harm. We are totally committed to sustainable business operations, including responsible environmental management and continual improvement of our environmental performance.
We ensure our commitment and performance through third party audit of our systems which implement our environmental policy and meet the international standard.
From a practical perspective however, I and many of my seafaring colleagues have seen first-hand the effects of pollution and the impact of garbage upon the seas and marine life. Importantly, we have also seen tangible improvements in recent years. Knowing that it is possible to make a difference reinforces our commitment to sustainability. Subsea cables are considered to be environmentally benign and recovery of cables that are 20, 30 or more years old indicates that they suffer minimal degradation over their operational life. Our experience has shown that safe and high-quality marine operations ensure a strong focus upon the consideration of environmental matters and the avoidance of harm.
Since starting Red Penguin Marine in 2005, what have been the biggest industry changes?
The subsea industries as a collective have talked about the aging demographic of the most experienced element of the global subsea cable work force for some considerable time. There has been a simply massive expansion in the amount of power cable being installed, from HVDC interconnectors to inter array cables and local distribution network upgrades. Accordingly, new ways of working have evolved, not always to the highest standard, with poorly designed equipment and “efficiencies”. New entrants have appeared and are learning on the job. Mistakes are being made but lessons are being learned. I guess this is symptomatic of companies repositioning in the sector and the dilution of the experience pool; an inevitable consequence of a burgeoning new industry – certainly, there are similarities to the submarine fibre network boom that preceded the dot-com bubble bursting at the beginning of this Century.
The American offshore wind industry has the opportunity to explore and prepare properly but also to gain from the experience of others around the world and this is happening – I have seen this through the small involvement I have had with the American Clean Power Standards Working Group for subsea cables.
On the other hand, there have been some interesting developments in technology and a real investment in marine engineering. There is a new focus on floating offshore wind although many challenges remain to be overcome make the technology commercially viable.
In the telecoms sector the biggest change is perhaps the influence of the OTTs who are installing networks globally on a scale that outstrips what the whole market was installing a few years ago, that and the capacity of the cables. The pace of installation across the whole subsea cable world is probably only paralleled by that at the height of the telegraph era, but capacity for transmission and the demand for more, whether for communications or energy, is a whole world away.
What are the next big steps for your company? How do you see the value of Red Penguin’s services progressing?
Addressing the skill base shortage and ensuring knowledge transfer to the next generation of cable engineers is a challenge for the industry and one we see as important for us to be involved in. Amongst our team and our associates Red Penguin has some of the most experienced and well-respected cable engineers and mariners in the industry. We are working with cross industry groups and academia to support knowledge transfer and to enable the next generation of cable engineers access the experience and knowledge acquired over the last 30 years or more. There are big steps to be taken here, as industry has failed to ensure its own succession. For our part Red Penguin is actively recruiting and is involved in supporting education and development across the subsea sector.
Where do you see the need for innovation in subsea infrastructure? And what new solutions do you think are most critical to your piece of the industry?
Innovation is happening all the time and as consultants we are frequently asked to review concepts and assess the impact of new technology, methods, or ideas. From ship design to materials, burial tools to novel procedures, the assessment of the risks associated requires an experienced eye to complement the bright minds and genius of the innovators. Sustainability is of course key to the future and will underpin much innovation. Connectivity will also be key, whether to high-capacity data or to sustainably generated power, and this will require innovation to increase global access. The so called ‘Smart cables’ – using embedded sensors or the fibres themselves to monitor environmental conditions will undoubtedly become part of the future, and developments in technology to enable more accurate fault location on power cables, particularly long distance HVDC systems, will make a significant difference in the energy sector and will, in many situations bring down repair times.
How does Red Penguin work with small companies? What are your considerations before engaging with a startup?
Red Penguin is, itself, a small company yet we work with companies of all sizes from startups to multinationals. We don’t have a prescribed method but work with the people to develop the most appropriate approach. Because we are primarily a service provider, our principal concern over and above the business sense of ensuring there is sufficient resilience in the startup, is that the resources of the company have the right levels of experience and commitment for the project. As we focus on innovating in the sector, we are engaging with startup businesses showcasing new and potentially revolutionary technology, Red Penguin believes in supporting them to facilitate their efforts and we work hard to do so.
Can you talk about an innovation that you recently implemented, why you decided to take the risk, and how it went?
Covid-19 has brought a change to the way in which the entire world works, and remote working is commonplace. The pandemic brought great challenges with mobilization of personnel around the world to allow us to act as our clients’ eyes and ears maintaining and installing critical infrastructure. Whilst the systems we had in place coped very well we have identified improvements and are currently exploring a new technology that will allow Red Penguin to deliver a service remotely. This initiative involves a startup company and investment to trial and deliver a capability and we are hoping to shortly deploy a trial kit on operations but to answer your question, we do not yet know how it will turn out!
We recently investigated a range of relatively novel ship designs and cable spreads for clients, reviewed innovative business plans and considered wholesale challenges to the traditional models for cable repair. Our most recent investment is sponsoring academic research into an area we think will become core to the future of power transmission.
Parts of the industry have lacked investment and therefore have not substantially changed in decades, but new technology and the impetus of a global awareness for change to a more sustainable industry and way of life, paves the way for innovation. At the core of Red Penguin is the principle of doing things properly, taking the time to look at the detail and get things right the first time. Across the sector we all have a part to play in the future of the industry, investing in technology but equally importantly delivering the next generation of cable engineers.
Find out more about the Red Penguin team here.