Stakeholders across the heavy lift supply chain are keeping an eye on floating wind energy developments. The sector’s commercialisation will provide future opportunities, but what the exact logistical requirements will be are still unclear, writes Phil Hastings.

This year is likely to see significant further expansion of an increasingly worldwide interest in the development of floating offshore wind power. Looking further ahead, that technology is set to play an enormous role in the world’s long-term drive to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal.

Those are two of the key points to emerge from recent research, analysis and reports covering anticipated trends in the global offshore wind sector.

As far as immediate prospects are concerned, Westwood Global Energy Group identified the commercialisation of floating wind concepts as one of the ‘Six key offshore wind themes to watch in 2022’.

“Despite being considered a nascent technology, there are numerous floating wind development proposals in both mature and emerging offshore wind jurisdictions, and this trend is expected to continue to expand in 2022,” said Westwood.

One development likely to boost that expansion is identified in the Global Wind Energy Council’s (GWEC) Global Wind Report 2022 − the increasing involvement of major oil and gas companies.

“Those companies have unparalleled offshore engineering skills and financial strengths, which will take floating wind from the current demonstration stage into full commercialisation by the middle of this decade,” said GWEC.

Dennis Jul Pedersen, director of the Danish port of Esbjerg, made the same point. “There is significant potential for a transfer of knowledge from the oil and gas industry, which has half a century of learning about floating structures.”

Offshore floating wind energy markets

Another GWEC report, Floating Offshore Wind – a Global Opportunity, named the UK, South Korea, France and Japan as the most mature offshore floating wind markets at present but also identified a ‘chasing pack’ of five other countries − Ireland, Italy, Morocco, Philippines and the USA – which have “significant floating wind potential”.

The growing potential in the USA is confirmed by Atlantic Offshore Terminals (AOT), which has designed its planned new Arthur Kill Terminal in New York to handle floating wind turbine generators.

“Over the next several years we expect all the US states with meaningful commitments to offshore wind will be significantly increasing their goals for that source of energy − and those goals will only be reached with the adoption of floating wind turbine generators,” commented Charles Dougherty, AOT’s chief commercial officer.

Growing interest in floating wind energy

The anticipated development of floating offshore wind energy is also attracting increasing interest from leading international heavy lift, project forwarding and installation service providers. BigLift Shipping, for instance, has been looking into opportunities for transporting floating offshore wind turbine foundations, reported Sanne Wiegerink, the company’s commercial manager.

“An interesting possibility for us is the transport of structures in sections, for example from the fabricator to an assembly yard, as well as the short transit movement of complete floating structures from quayside to quayside where no semi- submersible vessel is required,” she said.

Generally, though, there is still some debate over exactly how the logistics requirements for floating offshore wind projects might differ from those associated with fixed installations.

“My guess is that the heavy lift/project forwarding market will not see much of a difference. The volumes for blades, wind turbine generators and towers will pretty much remain the same,” commented Björn Wittek, managing director of Rhenus Offshore Logistics.

“What will be different will be the foundations – there will not be any monopile or transition piece shipments anymore. However, I think those will be replaced with quantities of sub-assemblies for the floaters, shipped to the port for final assembly.”

The biggest changes, suggested Wittek, would involve the installation process. “I believe the majority of floating wind turbine generators will sail out to site fully assembled, which will result in a higher demand for really high crawler cranes in port. The offshore element will be handled by tugs and anchor handlers for the mooring part, with the jack-up requirement likely to drop.”

Francisco Rodrigues, global segment lead – offshore wind for Mammoet, similarly suggested that with floating wind developing on the basis of limited large vessel or jack-up vessel utilisation, the demand for larger assets onshore, such as ring cranes, will increase. “Those machines reduce the time that installation vessels are idle by allowing near- simultaneous load-in and load-out of heavy components – but of course there is heavy competition for these assets from oil and gas,” he said.

Late last year, Mammoet completed the load-out of five floating wind platforms at the Navantia Fene shipyard in Spain for the Kincardine offshore wind farm. Because of the platforms weights, Mammoet prepared the quay by installing hundreds of steel plates to level the surface in places where it had previously been uneven. With that in place, the company mobilised 100 axle lines of SPMTs split between the three columns of the triangular structures, which were moved 100 m across the quay and loaded onto the seagoing vessel.

Floating wind energy challenges

Overall, concluded Rodrigues, with foundation weights likely to vary from 5,000-15,000 tonnes, floating wind projects will present several challenges for heavy lift and transport service providers.

That last point was echoed by Hans Henrik Groen, managing director of deugro Denmark: “The logistics requirements of this market will be different, with more extensive usage of heavy lift vessels and barge technology [to support a feeder concept linking installation ports and vessels] to perform the freight forwarding of either part-assembled, pre-assembled or fully mounted and assembled floating foundations.” 

This article has been taken from HLPFI’s July/August 2022 edition.