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The rush for wind: readying for the turbine boom

2021-05-25 CHARLIE BARTLETT, INTENT COMMUNICATIONS
wind power, subsea, cable laying, Jones Act

CIN 25052021 // amep-visualisation_credit_able_uk.jpg (179 K)

Caption: Visualisation of the USD106 million Able Marine Energy Park planned for development in the Humber region, UK. Photo Credit: Able UK

With the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) having fallen below USD100 per MWh, the offshore wind industry is threatening to take off in spectacular fashion, and looks set to create a huge amount of work for subsea industries along the way. Cables will need to be buried, raised, repaired and maintained; on top of that, various countries are constructing whole new port facilities to act as staging points for wind turbine installation.

Currently, the UK is leading the world in offshore wind, with some 10GW installed. But it is a close race. Recently, the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) for wind turbines has come down dramatically, to the point where some installations are able to take place without subsidies from governments, something almost unheard of in the modern energy sector.

In 2019, the last year in which Britain’s industrial activities were in full swing, combined onshore and offshore wind provided a fifth of the UK’s energy consumption. In September last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he wanted Britain to become “the Saudi Arabia of wind power”, implying that Britain would not only be able to service its own power needs, but sell clean energy to other countries as well.

"We've got huge, huge gusts of wind going around the north of our country – Scotland,” he said. “Quite extraordinary potential we have for wind."

The intention, Johnson said, was to chase off the likely economic slump to follow the Covid-19 pandemic, and “build back greener,” establishing new coastal facilities for the construction and installation of offshore wind turbines. Indeed, in an August 2020 storm, wind energy provided almost 60% of UK power needs, and in terms of the total available wind energy resource available in British waters, there is enough to provide around three times the total annual power consumption of the UK. Just as well; the latter is expected to increase substantially as Britain phases out petrol-powered cars in 2030, and replaces them with grid-charging electric vehicles.

In total, Great Britain has committed to install 40GW of wind turbine capacity in the North Sea, enough to power every home in the UK. That figure does not include whatever additional wind capacity to be installed on-shore, either, making this a remarkable spending spree for a government that has hitherto been extremely austere since it first came to power in 2010. As part of this initiative, Britain is investing considerable sums in offshore wind staging facilities along the UK’s east coast.

Recently, it was announced that UKP75 million (USD106 million) would be invested in construction of Able Marine Energy Park (AMEP), in the Humber region; a further UKP20 million (USD28 million) in the Teesworks Offshore Manufacturing Centre on Teesside. Together the facilities will support construction of up to 9GW of offshore wind energy per year – more than enough capacity to exceed government targets.

In the initial phase of AMEP, around 536 acres of land and 1,349m of quays will be developed. One of these areas, it is anticipated, could be developed by Korean steelmaker SeAH, which is said to be mulling building a major monopile production facility.

Work to be done

CEDA already brings together many of the parties that work around subsea and seabed interventions. It welcomes the opportunity to further widen its network with the wind industry, and believes that communication around new developments and exchange of knowledge and expertise is the way to help everyone meet the various challenges that the offshore and marine industries have in common. As one of the initiatives, CEDA’s Dredging Management Commission (DMC) is looking to set up a Working Group on installation and protection of subsea cables. Interested readers should look out for news coming from DMC in this area.

One such example is Ørsted’s cabling issue at Race Bank.  In May it was reported that the cable protection system (CPS) was dragged across the scour protection rocks, abrading the cable. The issue implicated several other offshore facilities installed around the same time, with a crucial element of the installation – the application of a second layer of rock on top of the cable – was not performed. The cost to Ørsted, it transpired, would be EUR403million (USD491 million).

“For the first many wind farms we built we had another solution,” explained Marianne Wiinholt, Ørsted’s Chief Financial Officer. “First we had rocks around a monopile, then we had a cable coming out, and then we put rocks on top again.

“Then, together with the industry, we thought that there was a better solution, and therefore we did not put the additional second rock layer on top. That was believed to be the best solution and we used that for ten of our wind farms. We have now found out that this is not a good solution, so for the wind farms we are constructing now, Hornsea Two and Changhua 1 & 2a we are stabilising the cables again.”

In all, Ørsted flagged nine other offshore wind farms affected by the same issue. It implies that while offshore wind is maturing rapidly, there are still knowledge gaps to be filled. Indeed, in the early days of British offshore wind, installations were characterised by a degree of miscommunication, leading to reports of cables being laid on top of one another. It is likely there is a great deal of work still to be done for subsea operators, to help iron out these issues.

A sleeping giant awakens

Across the ocean, the United States is recognising the enormous offshore wind energy potential of its thousands of miles of coastline; but thanks to the Jones Act, there is very little that can be done about it. Jack-up heavy-lift wind-turbine installation vessels (WTIVs) are seen throughout Europe and Asia-Pacific, but the US does not have one.

But that is about to change. Virginia-based Dominion Energy has commissioned Keppel AmFELS, in Brownsvile Texas, to build an all-American WTIV: Charybdis, at a cost of USD500 million. The vessel, due for delivery in 2023, is expected to install 5GW before 2030.

“The share of renewables and new energy solutions in the global energy mix has been growing rapidly, driven by environmental concerns as well as technological advancements and the declining cost of renewables,” Loh Chin Hua, CEO of Keppel Corporation and chairman of Keppel Offshore & Marine, said. “To seize opportunities in this fast-changing environment, we are making bold and decisive moves to transform Keppel O&M to ensure that it remains relevant and competitive, and fully aligned to Keppel’s Vision 2030.”

Indeed, by 2030, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) expects offshore wind to “go global”, adding 234GW of global capacity, as China, too, steps up to the plate, committing to add some 52GW of wind energy capacity by the end of this decade, overtaking the UK. Even outside the US, WTIVs stand to be a wind industry “bottleneck” by 2025, according to analysts; with some 32 operating, and around five on order, shipyards will need all the help they can get to capitalise on the new offshore boom.