Wind turbines are growing to epic proportions. Higher and higher they go! But have you ever spared a thought for the people who put these giant propellers together?

The clean energy solutions needed to drive coal back underground are stunning in their scale. Solar keeps a low profile on a large footprint, but wind turbine technology rises to fantastic heights. The task of delivering these giant generators to remote sites and assembling them pushes the limits of what haulage and crane operators can do. But they do it.

Global transport and heavy-lift provider ALE has been supporting the renewables rollout around the world for years, among a projects portfolio that includes ports, offshore, resources and civil work. EcoGeneration spoke to ALE heavy-lift project manager Laura Davies, who is knee-deep in construction at the 150MW Lal Lal Wind Farm in Victoria.

Could you describe your role and what it involves?

Most of my time is spent planning and scheduling works to optimise the crane movements, managing the budget and supporting the site team wherever required.

What are the biggest challenges when managing the construction of a wind farm in Australia?  

Building a wind farm requires precise planning and coordination. One of the biggest challenges is how many different factors can affect the planning and execution. Whether this is manufacturing, shipping, transportation or on-site challenges, if any one of these stages encounters a problem, it has a domino effect on the rest.

ALE heavy-lift project manager Laura Davies is busy on the 150MW Lal Lal Wind Farm in Victoria, having delivered a larger wind project recently in Thailand.

What is a typical day like?

My standard day involves a pre-start with the full team at 6.30am, co-ordination with our subcontractors, providing engineering support and keeping the client updated by reporting our daily progress at the end of each day. My biggest focus at the moment is analysing the processes and resources on site to make the crane relocations as time- and cost-effective as possible.

When did you decide to work in wind?

It started when I joined ALE in June 2013 for an industrial placement year as part of my university degree. It was a fantastic experience, so I was excited to return to the company in September 2015 after I had graduated.

I have spent the past few years in various locations around the world, including Australia, the UK and Thailand, working on a range of projects across different sectors. This has been a great opportunity to develop my engineering, management and operational skill set.

Most recently, I made the decision to move into a site-based project role to develop my experience on large-scale projects.

What projects have you worked on so far?

Right now I’m working on Lal Lal Wind Farm, which is a 60-turbine Vestas site near Ballarat, Victoria. Prior to this I was working on the WEH Thepharak Wind Farm Project in Thailand, about four hours north of Bangkok. That was a 150-turbine site split between Vestas and GE, with a 156-metre hub-height turbine. The project was a great challenge and was completed using two Kroll Tower K1650L cranes, which sparked my interest in the wind industry.

What would people never guess you do in your role?

People are surprised when I describe my job in general. The construction industry is still male-dominated, especially on site, which could seem challenging to an outsider. However, throughout ALE there is a culture to succeed together. Working on site is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job and there are opportunities to learn from a diverse range of people.

Is strong wind a problem when building a wind farm?

Yes, typically we lose around five days per month to wind, which prevents the main cranes from lifting. Each component has a different wind limit restriction due to the surface area exposed. For example, blades are most vulnerable to the wind and are typically restricted to 8 or 9m/s depending on the blade design. Wind aside, in Victoria the conditions are very extreme; we have experienced fire bans in January to hailstorms in June, so this has also created challenging site conditions.  

Has our wildlife ever been a problem?

Yes, Thailand had snakes whereas in Australia we have encountered an eagle, koala and many kangaroos!

Cranes used at Lal Lal include an AC700 all-terrain crane, an LTM1750 all-terrain crane and two LG1750 mobile cranes, all specialised units for the wind-handling activities. The mobile cranes can travel on roads less than 6m wide, to save time and costs on civil upgrades.

What have been some real successes you’ve seen in project coordination and what did you learn?

On the project in Thailand we had a day and night shift working which enabled us to install the turbine and also build the crane over a 24-hour shift. The dedication of the project team was very impressive and enabled the program to seamlessly coordinate a continual shift.

What is the most important thing you have learned so far?

The importance of planning and engineering the smartest way to complete a project to optimise the project resources available. The work on a wind farm is very fast-paced, so decisions have to be calculated and made at the right time.

Any tips for others in the industry?

Persevere through the difficult days. Each day has its challenges, however in this fast-paced industry, there are many small wins which you can’t take for granted.