At last it seems that the burgeoning offshore wind market is applying the brakes on an industry some believe is spinning out of control in terms of design and manufacturing pace.
At the first ever Offshore Wind Conference to be held at Oslo’s ongoing Nor-Shipping exhibition and conference, which ends today, some of the biggest names in the industry admitted the pace of technical change was too fast and there needed to be a slowdown for the sector to be sustainable.
While upbeat about the state of the industry – or rather, its future – panellists voiced concerns about the pace of progress and suggested that there might be a need for some kind of standardisation among rivals within the industry.
Chairing the panel discussion – Higher, Further, Faster, More – Clarksons Offshore & Renewables managing director Frederik Andersen said there were a grand total of 6,500 active offshore wind turbines in the world – excluding China – with so far just about 30 of them floating.
“By the end of 2030, there will be 20,000 wind turbines in the water,” he said. “The market is bottom fixed, but we need to accelerate it massively.”
This acceleration is going to need 50 million tonnes of steel, 20,000km of cables and 13,500 new foundations, he said. It will need new, bigger vessels and billions of dollars spending on it.
“Every 10 years the turbines are getting bigger, the foundations are getting bigger, ships are becoming obsolete,” he said. “How do we do this? We are getting to a tipping point.
“We’ve been through a year with very few Final Investment Decisions (the umbrella association WindEurope told Maritime Journal not a single one had been made in Europe during 2022) and with inflation it might be that the end consumer needs to pay a bit more for electricity,” he said.
Ward Gommeren, senior strategic commercial director of GE Renewable Energy, one of the world’s three biggest turbine makers, said the company had produced a 10MW turbine that it was demonstrating at Dogger Bank in the North Sea and Vineyard, the first commercial US offshore wind farm.
“We thought we had some time being the biggest in the market at 10MW but we have been very quickly overrun and are hearing that we are racing up to the 20s,” he said. “We’ve said that’s too far, so we’re now looking in the 17-18MW range, but we need to have a bit more stability in the market andv we need to earn back the money we’ve invested in developing these turbines.
“The last 12-18 months have been very, very limited. We need to make sure we get certainty for the wind farms. We need to have time to increase the production capacity.”
In fact GE, Vestas and Siemens-Gamesa have all lost millions of dollars in turbine manufacture, and Gommeren admitted there had been discussions.
“We’ve been sitting around the table with a lot of partners and concluded that we need to come to a direction of standardisation,” he said.
With tip height – the total diameter of the rotor from blade end to blade end – now reaching 305 metres, the towers need to be high enough so that the blades are 25 metres above the water level.
This has repercussions right across the sector, from crane and wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) size to the crew transfer vessels that will no longer be able to safely transfer crew on to them.
They are also so far out to sea that it makes sense for crew to stay out there on SOVs – “but these, price wise, are 10-fold over CTVs,” said Windcat Workboats MD and co-founder Robbert van Rijk.
“We are willing to develop these but it has to be paid for,” he said. “And what are we going to develop for floating wind?”
“Turbine installation needs a degree of standardisation,” said Stuart Fitzgerald, CEO of Seaway7, which has a fleet of cable-lay and heavy lift vessels, and will soon add a jack-up WTIV and heavy-lift installation vessel for foundation installation.
“Every installation is complicated, every one is different. One of the challenges is that the foundations are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. There is a new, complicated problem on every single project.
“If someone gave me $500 million tomorrow, I wouldn’t know what to build with it.”
Bas Nekeman, Business Unit director with DEME Offshore, said everyone had invested so heavily in new vessels and new equipment that it might be time for a rethink.
“Maybe it’s a good idea to keep the investment in the back of our mind when it comes to designing a wind farm, instead of planning a wind farm based on the fantasy of a vessel still on the drawing board,” he said.
Panel in London
Shortly after the Oslo conference ended, the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) announced it would also hold similar disucssions at a panel meeting on June 15 during the Global Offshore Wind Conference in London.
Hosting the panel, which includes BP project director Richard Haydock, GE Renewable Energy commercial director Richard Huxley, and DEME Offshore managing director Hugo Bouvy, new IMCA CEO Iain Grainger said: “I’m delighted to have convened this panel for what will be a timely discussion on solving the issues we face in offshore wind. While there are huge ambitions and expectations, we are simultaneously facing significant challenges across the supply chain. These will only be overcome if we come together as an industry to face these head on.”