A Merseyside firm specialising in wind turbine installation and maintenance, as well as training, enjoyed its “best-ever year” in 2020 as investment in renewable energy surged across Europe.
Offshore Painting Services (OPS) was founded by brothers Paul and David Jones in Crosby in 2010. It quickly established itself as a leading provider of complete corrosion protection and composite blade inspection and repairs for offshore wind turbines.
A decade later and the business now operates all over Europe, carrying out installation, maintenance and special projects for big global players such as MHI Vestas, RWE, Siemens and Ørsted using a team of highly-skilled technicians. Its phenomenal growth was recognised at the Mersey Maritime Industry Awards 2020 when it was named Business of the Year.
In 2016, it opened a training facility offering industry-wide vocational and bespoke training courses. The centre is accredited to some of the industries leading trade authorities including Global Wind Organisation Irata and Icats.
Across its two operational sites, in Knowsley and Grimsby, as well as the training centre in Aintree, OPS employs a core full-time staff of around 50, with a number of new people taken on in the last few months. But the headcount can swell by dozens more, both in training and operations, according to demand.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Paul and David were initially worried about what the impact on the business would be, particularly on the training side. And it put plans to acquire a 19-metre vessel for its offshore work on hold.
“In 2019 we had both the training centre and the operations centre in Aintree,” said Paul. “But such was the demand for training that the four classrooms we had there was not enough and we needed to make more space. Early in 2020 we began relocating the operation centre to a new location in Knowsley. This meant we were able to have eight classrooms at Aintree.
“Then we had to close down the training centre because of COVID. It remained closed for around six weeks and we used that time to ensure we put in place a plan that would allow it to reopen safely. When we opened up again we kept it to a maximum of four people in each classroom.”
Their fears about the impact of the pandemic on the business were quickly dispelled. Across Europe the rapid growth of the renewable energy sector continued, despite lockdowns and restrictions across most countries. OPS technicians were in demand in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands. Consequently, demand also grew for the specialist industry training provided by the firm. This all led to more technicians being hired as well as around seven new team members at the training centre.
Paul added: “The business has gone from strength to strength. When we looked at it we realised 2020 was probably our best-ever year providing services to 33 projects across Europe. I think David and I were only home for about five days through the whole year.
“We had a logistical challenge because many of the airlines stopped flying due to COVID. Our technicians would normally fly out to the projects so, instead, we invested in new vehicles to add to our current fleet so they could drive and cross the Channel via the Channel Tunnel. They were undergoing frequent COVID tests and not one of them tested positive for the virus during the whole year.”
Although 2021 has started off a little quieter things have started to accelerate again in recent days. A new year is seeing OPS dispatching eight technicians for a job in Europe and, with investment in renewables set to keep growing, Paul is anticipating another busy year.
“We would still like to buy the boat. We leased it last year when we were working on the Burbo Bank windfarm in Liverpool Bay for the first time. We will usually use clients’ vessels to get out to the turbines but if we ever have to charter a vessel that can add to the costs and we can end up pricing ourselves out of jobs.
“Obviously, because of COVID, we still can’t have as many people in the training centre as usual, but the demand is there,” said Paul. “I think the way we responded to COVID was spot on and I’m proud of the way we went above and beyond to get things up and running again.”