Floating offshore wind ambitions write cheques supply chains can’t yet cash
The European Union (EU) has as a target, to reach 300 GW of offshore wind energy by 2050, in its Strategy on Offshore Renewable Energy. Developing floating offshore wind farms (FOWF) increases the potential surface available for generating wind energy.
“All this time we have been focussing predominately on fixed bottom turbines, however, we now have turbines that can be installed on floating platforms, and as a result, can be installed further into the sea. Because 80% of waters worldwide are suited for floating offshore wind farms (FOWF), this has opened up huge potential,” explained Sharanya Kumaramurthy, at a conference in Amsterdam.
“At the minute, the industry is in its infancy stages: only 100 MW have been installed, with the largest FOWF being Kincardine Offshore Windfarm, in the United Kingdom (UK),” continued the senior energy analyst at Energy Industries Council. “However, there is enough investment and interest to know that the industry will kick off, it’s more so when and how.” At the moment, the United Kingdom is leading the field, followed closely by Northern and Mediterranean Europe, as well as South Korea, and Australia added Kumaramurthy.
Barend Jenje, commercial director of floating wind at GustoMC, projected that this unprecedented market is expected to outgrow that of fixed offshore wind by 2050. During the ‘Focus on floating offshore wind farms’ panel discussion, he however stressed that there is “catching up to do in the supply chains,” and referred to finding solutions to this as “the million dollar question.” Other speakers also appeared sceptical about the FOWF industry’s ability to reach 2030 targets as set by the EU, citing supply chain issues and installation speeds as some of the hurdles to overcome.
Cooperation and investment
When it comes to ramping up the construction of FOWFs, “the core issue will be supply chain for components,” stated Joop Roodenburg, President of Huisman Equipment. This includes the availability of materials and access to personnel and a qualified labour force. Kumaramurthy concurred, adding that there are “too many challenges for it to come to fruition so fast” meaning by 2030, highlighting that the industry as a whole needs to “learn from the mistakes we made with fixed bottom turbines.”
“Developers and governments need to come together and push the whole supply chain,” she continued. While partnerships between developers and local ports are already in existence, “the scope of collaboration needs to be larger, with one clear message,” adds Kumaramurthy. Jenje also raises the following questions: “How can Europe act as one?” Indeed, “Due to the complexity of this business, sustainable investments are needed. Governments need to cooperate and invest, not just international contractors. We need combined efforts to make it happen.”
Supply chain and innovation
“At the moment there are 83 floating technologies from many different countries,” according to Arvid Nesse, CEO of Norwegian Offshore Wing. As stated by moderator Paul de Leeuw, director of the RGU Energy Transition, “There are many designs out there, maybe too many.” Indeed, with the current emphasis on innovation, a wide range of designs are seeing the light of day. “There are over one hundred suggested designs out there today, with only three turbine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), so there will have to be a consolidation in the market,” stated Jenje. Uniformity of design may help to speed up production.
“This issue should be solved by the developers. There is a need for a selection process and consolidation within the industry,” he continued. Jenje explains: “International contractors will not invest in each national market, there needs to be a focus on production capacity. (…) It’s all about numbers and efficiency. Everyone can build a single unit, we need to be ready to handle many projects production at once. The main issue comes down to the supply chain. The scale is going to be massive and the infrastructure needs to be there.”
One issue will also be the concrete and steel supply chains, as these are the two materials from which the floating bases are being made of. Jenje highlights the influence that local lobbies will have in this area. For instance, France, Norway, and India have strong concrete lobbies, as opposed to South Korea, which has a significant steel lobby. “I doubt a single concrete floater will be built in South Korea,” he stated.
Installation speed and vessels
According to de Leeuw, to reach current EU wind energy targets, “we need to install a turbine every day for the next decade.” Nesse explains that, as opposed to fixed OWFs, floating wind turbines can be put together in ports year-round, if the port has a deep enough quayside, and is sheltered from inclement weather. “At the moment, six companies are working on this, one even has a planned production capacity of 100 turbines a year, but there is a need for massive investment.”
Nesse stressed the importance of developing this capability as “offshore wind is going deeper, and there will be a lack of capacity for specialised vessels. Jenje concurred, highlighting that steel and concrete floating bases will have different installation methods, and will require different vessels, as concrete is three times heavier than steel. Roodenburg highlighted a “need radical change in the installation process,” as “Ports have their own limitations, floating wind is ramping up, turbine size increasing, offshore workability is limited so need new solutions.”
To this end, Huisman has developed a specific Windfarm Installation Vessel (WIV), a ‘floating factory’, capable of transporting and upending a full tower. “The system does not need a port and can work year-round, so it’s a fundamentally different approach. (…) We’ve been working on this design for a decade. It will be able to install a turbine a day.” Lastly, “Automating the installation process would also be safer and more cost-effective,” adds Roodenburg.
Planning for maintenance
According to Jenje, the life expectancy of a floating offshore wind turbine is 25 to 30 years, depending on the developer, while maintenance is mainly coating and painting against corrosion. “Manufacturer will be involved in fixing design issues noticed in the first round of development, for at least the next decade,” he added. Nesse adds that “concrete has a long lifetime, in theory, it can last 100 years.” As such, turbines can be switched at the end of their lifetime, and a new one can be placed on the floating base, “much like a lego set”. “Our WIV can also switch out turbines, in addition to installing them,” added Roodenburg.