Polish waters are to see four new wind farms with a substantial 10.3GW output, coming from “up to 1,000 turbines”, Jakub Budzynski of the Polish Offshore Wind Energy Society told MJ: those doing their sums can see he’s expecting an industry step change.

“The development period, with construction starting in 2024 and commissioning beginning in 2024/25, means the time for the present 8MW and 9.5MW turbines will be passed, so we are looking at 10MW and above,” says Budzyński. In fact, the Baltic development should make the most of a technology race: a demo version of GE Renewables 12MW Haliade-X has already been constructed on a Rotterdam quay. But as Budzyński pointed out, Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas are also working on their own 10MW-plus designs.

These technologies promise to help Poland lower the Levelised Cost Of Energy (LCOE) which he admitted currently stands at a rather high EUR120/MW. “For each offshore megawatt installed the current CAPEX comes between EUR2.5m to EUR3m,” he added. While around 20% of this is due to the cost of transmission infrastructure, much of the rest is simply down to a lack of economies of scale.

So, for PGE and its 1.5GW Baltica 2 and 1.05GW Baltica 3 development (which could see Orsted taking a stake) as well as for the 1,440MW Bałtyk II and III Equinor /Polenergia JV, size matters.

Whichever turbine manufacturer is chosen, these will be big installations. The blades will likely be over 105m, which means 230m-plus long, 10m diameter towers and far heavier foundations, demanding more in weight, height and reach capacities from installation ships.

The challenge is that while a handful of jack-ups could be upgraded, there are relatively few 10MW-capable vessels currently on the market, he said. So, while many areas have taken advantage of mature technologies to drive down their LCOE to the point where offshore wind is “beating down new nuclear and even gas” said Budzyński, it could still be hit by a peak in installation costs. Further demand is set to rise to the point where “there may be queues for the XXL turbines”, he added.

“The European fleet will certainly need to be built up” he concluded, but added a handful of new vessel designs hold promise “especially those that can go out to site with components for six complete units onboard... as this will result in a significant cost advantage”. These include Jan de Nul’s mega-vessel Voltaire, the kite-shaped SOUL (SeaOwls/Ulstein) concept to the OHT semisubmersible under build in China. This last can complete heavy lift operations with a submerged main deck, yielding stability without standing.

But while the teams are ‘keeping an eye’ on innovation, the supporting technologies will likely prove to be more evolution than revolution: “I believe we will tend toward an established installation approach... even if the vessels are bigger”, he concluded.

Scaling up also demands more of ports like Gdynia, which sees itself as a main contender and is already forming MOUs with other stakeholders. While it has experience in heavy, barge-delivered project cargo and is already established as an onshore wind facility “the challenge is a matter of size, so the port will need investment in access infrastructure, lifting equipment, reinforced wharves and so on”, he explained.

Not all the challenges are related to size. The area is also notable for its ecological diversity – and vulnerability – with environmental permits granted only in the case of very complete mitigation strategies, “for example noise pollution” he underlined.

However Budzyński outlined one further issue: “The area is rich with unexploded ordanance, so we are making sure that we look very hard at this during campaigns... when we put down the jackup’s legs, we want to know there isn’t an UXO beneath one of its feet.”

It will be a long game: these wind farms should be in place by 2040 and then there’s the O&M industry that will follow on the heels of construction: the maintenance round is expected to create work for at least 18 years from the first switch on.

By Stevie Knight