Offshore wind creates opportunities for ship suppliers

The demand for offshore wind installation vessels is expected to become a significant issue over the next few years and could affect the pace of development of offshore wind farms.

By 2024, some analysts predict that demand for wind turbine installation vessels could exceed supply.

The situation is exacerbated by the trend towards larger and heavier wind turbines. This, in turn, has rendered some wind turbine installation vessels (some of which have only been built in recent years) obsolete. As wind farm developers continue to favor larger wind turbines, a new generation of purpose-built vessels will be needed to meet demand.

Retrofitting existing turbine installation vessels is likely to be expensive, time consuming and in some cases impossible. Market demand is likely to be for vessels with a larger deck area that can carry more turbines per voyage – a feature that will significantly improve operational efficiency and reduce overall project costs.

Jack-up installation vessels are likely to be less sensitive to weather-related delays than other forms of wind turbine installation vessels, which in turn improves efficiency levels.

The availability of vessels to service the construction of offshore wind farms in the United States is limited by the application of the Jones Act. This law states that ships traveling between two points in the United States must be built, owned, equipped, and registered in the United States. This will likely pose a challenge to US plans to dramatically increase domestic offshore wind power capacity by 2030. Other jurisdictions such as China and Japan also have restrictions on the use of foreign-flagged vessels. with regard to the construction activities of offshore wind farms.

The amount of offshore wind capacity (from both fixed and floating turbines) added each year must increase significantly by 2030 to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement. In order to ensure that this goal is achieved, more wind turbine installation vessels will be needed in a short period of time. This represents an obvious opportunity for shipowners.

However, projects to build new ships are not without challenges given the high cost of these ships and the lack of shipyards capable of building this type of ship. Other floating infrastructure, such as tugs and barges, are also likely to play their part in carrying out offshore construction projects.

The increasing distance of offshore wind farms from shore poses a challenge for operating and maintenance vessels. Service Operation Vessels (SOVs) are increasingly common in the offshore wind industry for the performance of operation and maintenance activities. SOVs are needed, as an alternative to Crew Transfer Vessels (CTVs), due to the distance between many offshore wind farms and the shore.

Originally, some SOVs were oil and gas industry vessels, but there is a growing trend of building vessels specifically for deployment on offshore wind applications. SOVs offer clear advantages over CTVs – SOVs can stay at sea for longer periods of time, cope with worse weather conditions, cope with greater wave heights and carry more personnel on board.

© Provided by North Star Renewables
North Star Renewables’ SOVs will bring cutting-edge technology to the offshore wind market and the 3.6 GW Dogger Bank Wind Farm being built in the North Sea by joint venture partners SSE Renewables, Equinor and Eni.

Many purpose-built SOVs are fitted with specialist walk-to-work systems, allowing personnel to transfer to offshore wind turbines directly from the SOV, as well as helipads, while daughter craft are often supplied in tandem. These craft will be used to transport personnel to and from offshore wind turbines, and their maneuverability provides a very useful additional capability alongside SOVs.

CTVs capable of servicing offshore wind farms are also in high demand and have the advantage of being fast and maneuverable. Recent months have seen increased investment in this type of vessel. Typically designed to carry 12 to 24 people, CTVs are an ideal solution for operation and maintenance work on offshore wind turbines located close to shore.

Qualified and experienced personnel, able to operate the vessels efficiently and safely in very demanding environments, will likely be a valuable asset. Mere possession of suitable vessels will not suffice to satisfy the appetite of the market. Another issue that shipowners have to deal with is the local content rules for ship’s crews that apply in some jurisdictions.

The demand will likely be for vessels powered by low-carbon solutions. There is a growing trend for CTVs and SOVs to be designed to use hybrid (electric and traditional fuel) technology. Hydrogen and ammonia may also be used more commonly as fuels for ships in the future.

Existing shipowners will need to act quickly to take advantage of the opportunities offered by offshore wind farms.

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