Association News, Australia, C&L, CICA, Cranes & Lifting

Net Zero 2050: The opportunities and challenges for the crane industry

CICA CEO, Brandon Hitch, discusses the central role cranes are playing in the push to Net Zero 2050, covering the reality of the situation, the risks associated with wind farm construction, and learning from past mistakes.

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The push to Net Zero by 2050 presents opportunity and challenge in equal parts to our industry, globally and close to home. On February 14 CICA held the inaugural Cranes in Wind forum in Melbourne, and I want to take this opportunity to reflect on the event. The goal from the beginning was to provide a space for honest, open dialogue about our industry’s relationship with wind farming – the reality, the risks, what can go wrong and how we can turn those missteps into actionable learnings.  

The breadth of knowledge shared was immense.

We looked at the perspective of manufacturers, the struggles of finding a balance in engineering cranes tailored to wind farm construction and maintenance when geographic location plays such a heavy part in determining what’s plausible – or possible. Flat plains, craggy mountains, narrow pathways, loose sand and packed rock. There is no one single blueprint of what it looks like to work in wind. 

Demand is growing, and it will keep growing. The extremes of the turbines, the lifts and the engineering needed to meet that call grow with it. Wind farms need cranes, and our industry benefits from that relationship. Necessity breeds innovation, and we’ve seen some incredible machinery born from the quirks of working in wind. Narrow track crawler cranes to navigate roads that would otherwise be a nightmare, immense heavy-lifters capable of walking between towers while still rigged. Hub heights on turbines have shot upwards from 20 metres to 160, new designs are pushing 199, and that’s just on land. The landscape of wind is changing, and our industry will be changed with it. 

Creating an open dialogue isn’t just about showcasing success, but interrogating mistakes. 

We heard case studies of serious incidents, the mechanics of the failures and what came after. Contextualising the relationship between crane companies and wind farm developers is going to be key as we move forward. It was a persistent refrain heard throughout the day – lifts that push the limits of our machines aren’t the danger. There was a panel dedicated to effective lift planning on the agenda, multiple case studies of impressive and innovative lifts. The lift is meticulously planned, right down to the most exacting detail. Relocation is often not; and presents catastrophic points of potential failure. 

The nature of contracts in the space is competitive. Wind farming is high-demand, high-expectation. The burden of risk is heavily weighted towards crane owners and operators. Lower rates, bigger promises, questionable infrastructure and big machinery is not an easy mix. What can we do to share that burden of risk between the owners of the cranes and the owners of the farms? There needs to be transparency: what’s accomplishable, what’s realistic, what’s safe. 

Acknowledging the threat doesn’t wash away the success. 

We heard fantastic case studies of innovative lifts carrying immense weights, working in high wind, excitement about where the possibilities of renewable energy will take us, expert insight into engineering and safety, ground pressure and crane pads and everything in between. 

To all our attendees, presenters, and panellists; thank you. Cranes in Wind was the beginning of a conversation, not the end. The success of the day was proof of the need for non-commercialised, authentic forums to speak plainly with experts and peers alike, and it won’t be the last. 

Brandon Hitch 



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