David Kershaw spoke with Francisco Rodrigues, global sector lead – offshore wind, and Gavin Kerr, global cranes director, of Mammoet on various facets of the transition. Innovation will be critical in meeting ambitious targets.

Mammoet in action for the Changhua offshore wind energy project

Mammoet in action at the Changhua offshore wind energy project.

The installation targets set out for the offshore wind energy sector are gargantuan. But are they realistic? “If you look back at the overall number and what has been achieved so far – and, typically, we take numbers excluding China for easier comparison – I think they are ambitious,” said Francisco Rodrigues, global sector lead – offshore wind at Mammoet. “You are talking about doubling or tripling installed capacity per year versus what has been done so far. That seems like quite a jump, especially because you are bringing offshore wind to new areas that are maybe not as developed in terms of supply chain or industry overall.”

He noted that in terms of big ticket investments, such as jack-up rigs, there seems to be a new commitment every month. But other critical areas of the supply chain find themselves lagging behind. “I think we are bit behind in terms of port infrastructure overall and investing in ports to support the industry,” said Rodrigues, adding that installation targets might be achieved a few years later than planned.

Gavin Kerr, global cranes director, cited Ireland as an example of where port infrastructure may hinder installation goals offshore. “Ireland right now has wonderful ambitions. What they do not have is port facilities, except for maybe Belfast, which can realistically be used for marshalling. It means that they are reliant on European ports to support at least the first wave of projects in Ireland. Those ports are already more or less close to capacity serving the existing North Sea projects.”

This issue can be seen internationally. Kerr added: “We have an infrastructure developed in Europe where offshore wind is a bit more mature than in other markets – APAC being next, and the USA is emerging. But all these emerging markets do not have suitable infrastructure, and that also goes for the grid connections, and that is before we even talk about cranes, barges, jack-up vessels. Right now, I think that in general the supply chain is pretty aligned in saying no, we do not have enough physical assets to keep up with the demand.”

One promising point, however, is human capital. Kerr believes the issues with recruiting and retaining suitable qualified staff may be somewhat less acute than in other areas of the business, with oil and gas sector staff transitioning with their companies to the renewables field. Furthermore, “I think we have got a huge pool of highly trained and capable technicians on the onshore wind side of the business with transferable skills into the offshore setting. So, I think labour, for a change, is actually less of an issue.”

The offshore wind energy sector is already suffering from a lack of staging and marshalling capacity, while components are becoming larger and more complex. Transport engineering can help to standardise approaches and boost productivity on the quayside.

Production and repetition

“Wind is about production and repetition overall. So, when we talk about these projects, we talk about doing the same processes 100-200 times. So, it is really about going on the detail to try to maximise cycles, being as lean as possible on resources,” Rodrigues explained. While bottom-fixed turbine installation has become standardised, “when components get bigger you still find new ways to do things, helping the industry with new concepts on how to handle XXL monopiles, extra-large jackets and 15-16 MW turbines”.

Floating wind remains in its nascent stages, with only a few prototype/pre-commercial projects in the water. This area is somewhere that Mammoet believes it can really assist clients. “I do not think anyone has tested out the serial production of floaters and that is where I think we can look at maximising the output while minimising the utilisation of assets,” said Rodrigues.

“Typically, we look at such jobs with high demands on lifting or transport capacity and we try to help the developers, fabricator and designers of the floater to industrialise their process a bit better and get to a target of one floater per week output – which is as fast as OEMs can build turbines. That is the trend that everyone wants to sell. That is what we are trying to do.”

He added that Mammoet has been involved in a number of pre-commercial floating wind projects and is in talks with clients about the upcoming fourth round allocation in the UK, as well as a few other projects in France. “We want to help our customers with mutualised assets for multiple activities… reduce mobilisation of multiple assets, and also reduce CO2 emissions – because everything you move is putting out emissions.”

Continuing on the issue of ports, Kerr said: “It is not just about expanding existing port facilities but creating new capacity in the emerging markets.

“If we consider how we are we going to at least give ourselves the best chance possible to reach installation targets, you need to have all of the assets being as productive as possible. Any asset that is going from one continent to the next is not productive.

“For example, Mammoet has five 5,000-tonne ring cranes. We can provide global coverage through our global network so that we can always be as close as possible to the projects to maximise the uptime of the asset, which ultimately maximises the uptime of the project itself.”

Other areas where Mammoet feels it has added value is in finding the balance between the onshore and offshore parts of the logistics process. “The offshore part is not something that we actively participate in, but we understand what creates value offshore. Then we look to the onshore part to see how we can streamline the supply chain for an optimum schedule that reduces the critical path,” said Kerr.

“If clients take a very traditional procurement approach, where they start to split all of the contracts up, you will end up with a siloed procurement approach, and you are going to end up with a siloed solution where everybody tries to have the cheapest solution on all the individual contracts,” Kerr explained, noting that this rarely creates the most efficient installation solution.

He argued that better results are realised with an integrated approach. “You see a lot of overlap in the scopes, managing the interfaces and coming up with the optimum solution for the total project. That needs a lot of collaboration and a lot of cross-pollination between the contractors.”

Mammoet’s floating wind prospects

Floating wind is becoming more important to the power mix, but Rodrigues feels it will not supplant traditional offshore wind installations in terms of installed capacity. “There are a number of countries and areas that can only use floating wind as their source of energy… but I do not think it will be the biggest by far.” He added that, right now, it is difficult to scale up in terms of volume – it is still a young technology with issues surrounding bankability and insurance. “But I think everyone believes in the technology and the first time you see a 500 MW or 1 GW floating project, the LCOE will really go down and then it will be a serious contender.” He believes there will be a greater likelihood of mixed parks featuring both floating and fixed-bottom installations, going forwards, which should help to de-risk the newer technology.

Kerr added: “I think what is really interesting to imagine is a future for offshore wind where pretty much everything can be done, either onshore or close to shore. Almost a production line of floating foundations coming up to an installation asset, and then you are just integrating the turbine before towing it offshore.

“What we are finding on Hywind Tampen is that each turbine is getting integrated in about one week. I would say that is quite productive relative to maybe what we expected a few years ago. I think that productivity improvement could be interesting for offshore wind, with much less handling and onshore operations taking a bigger chunk of the supply chain scope in comparison to fixed-bottom installations.”

Kerr said the multifaceted energy transition is also spurring a skills and expertise shift. “The fundamentals around heavy lifting or managing heavy loads on water, it is broadly similar – for a 3,000-tonne substation, the skills you need to manage and to install are the same as with the 3,000-tonne floaters. So, I think in that sense a huge amount of knowledge already exists within the supply chain that can be that can be leveraged.”

“I think what is really interesting to imagine is a future for offshore wind where pretty much everything can be done, either onshore or close to shore. Almost a production line of floating foundations coming up to an installation asset, and then you are just integrating the turbine before towing it offshore.” 

Gavin Kerr, Mammoet

Referencing Mammoet’s heavy cranes division specifically, Kerr broke down the company’s mix of work. “In 2021, about 30 percent of the revenue associated with globally managed large cranes was coming from renewables. Within that asset portfolio this year, that will more than likely go above 50 percent. I do expect that for the higher asset classes, offshore wind can easily end up being more than 70 percent in five years’ time.

“That is less to do with the transition from petrochemical investment toward renewable investment. It is more the changing investment landscape in petrochemicals. Developers are not turning to new construction and adding capacity in the exact same way that renewables are – they are adopting a more sustainable approach within their existing asset portfolio in terms of carbon capture and sustainable fuels like HVO, for example. This requires more brownfield construction, which requires high-capacity cranes but with smaller footprints.

“Some think that just because renewables are happening that the traditional segments are all of a sudden going to disappear – they are not. It is just that their strategies require different types of assets. But we definitely see a migration of the higher-end resources going towards offshore and the high-capacity, small base units going more toward the traditional segments – brownfield projects such as steel production and refining.

“This shift also helps with resource availability. The assets are not fighting with each other and it means you can continue to serve the markets in parallel.”

Design leadership at Mammoet

Mammoet has recently launched its E-SPMTs, introduced HVO into some of its transport operations, launched the Focus30, and introduced the electric-powered SK6000 ringer.

“Our clients are looking to their supply chain to reduce their carbon footprint. I think we are at the forefront there in terms of design leadership to reduce GHG and lower our carbon footprint. It will eventually become a requirement in terms of contracting, but also even government policy. In the Netherlands, for example, for urban environments they are looking for these low-carbon emission solutions. So that will only get more important.”

Kerr added: “One of the reasons that we are struggling as a supply chain to keep up with the level of demand is the fact that the demand landscape is changing so quickly.”

He cited that 8 MW turbines were proposed for Hywind Tampen, but OEMs are already prototyping 15 MW turbines and are talking about 20 MW models in the future. Normally, when investing in assets, be it a land-based crane or an offshore vessel, you would look at a 30-year lifetime with some level of retrofitting at the mid-life point.

“If you invest in an asset that you typically look for a return on over three decades but becomes obsolete after five years, your investment proposal is over. Instead, you need to focus on designs that are modular, scalable and totally flexible. That is what we are aiming for with our SK series.”

Kerr described the SK series of ring cranes as investments into a system, rather than just an asset. “An SK 190 can become a SK 350; it can become an SK 6000. It can add a jib.

“The SK system is modular and allows us to basically go up a size within a 12-month period. So as the market starts to grow in terms of turbine size, we can adapt much quicker. I think that is a way forward for everybody to follow – fixed assets and fixed designs are just not going to cut the mustard with offshore wind until we come to a point when turbines literally cannot get any bigger.”

System innovation is another area of focus. “We are remotely accessing the ‘black boxes’ of our assets where you can get real-time information – how many hours was the engine running today and on what level of power? How many litres of fuel did we consume and what is that in terms of CO2 output?

“This is for internal and external reporting, giving our people and customers a real view of exactly what the supply chain is doing in terms of meeting or helping them to meet their own environmental targets.

“I think big data is a new topic for people in this industry – what is the future of big data within the heavy lifting and project forwarding environment. I think we have not scratched the surface in terms of what is possible.”

Remote possibilities

Kerr also considered the development of remotely operated lifting equipment and referenced a test project Mammoet completed recently: a terminal crane located in the Netherlands was controlled by an operating engineer situated in Louisiana, USA.

“We had a supervisor onsite to monitor the lift, but it was operated from behind the laptop. So, you could imagine a future where you have five cranes based globally, where typically each crane, especially on the higher capacity, is maybe doing one lift per day – an operator would be starting off with a lift in Indonesia and then finishing with a lift in Sao Paulo at the end of the day – that future is absolutely tangible and realistic.”

Kerr added: “Operators will not need to take multiple long-distance flights or be away from their families for extended periods. We have not even scratched the surface in terms of what is possible. It is not about trying to automate to replace operators, it is actually trying to keep up with the changing working cultures – people are less open to going away for eight weeks at a time, living in camps.

“The ways of working and the wants of the newer generations are completely different than what we had 10 years ago. Automation capabilities are not to replace people, but to facilitate the new generation’s preferences in terms of their working needs.”