Offshore wind threatened by ship shortage — report

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, November 30, 2020

The offshore wind industry by 2025 could see a major shortage of the big, expensive ships used to install turbines, creating the prospect of inflated costs for projects across the globe, according to an analysis released last week.

The “heavy-lift” ships cited by researchers at Norway-based firm Rystad Energy AS are crucial for the complicated task of fastening foundations into the ocean floor and installing turbines several hundred feet tall. The ships’ price tags can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

About 32 turbine-installation vessels and 14 others that install foundations are active globally, with another five being developed in each respective category, according to Rystad’s estimates.

But wind developers’ quest for larger, more efficient turbines could end up complicating their access to ships. Only a handful of existing vessels are able to handle new generations of turbines, like the 12-megawatt Haliade-X being marketed by General Electric Co. in 2021, the firm said.

“As technology advances and future-generation wind turbines will get even bigger, the existing fleet of vessels is not likely to have enough capacity to install them,” Rystad analysts wrote.

That could slow reductions in the cost of offshore wind power, said Alexander Fløtre, the firm’s product manager for offshore wind.

“We identify the heavy-lift vessel segment as the key bottleneck for offshore wind development from the middle of this decade,” he said.

In the United States, investors are still uncertain about what long-term demand for offshore wind will look like, wrote Fløtre in an email to E&E News, meaning investors may not have “adequate certainty” to fund purchases of expensive vessels.

Rystad’s warnings track with the accounts of some other shipping analysts. One executive at shipping services firm Clarksons Platou told S&P Global Inc. in 2019 that only three existing vessels would be capable of installing the Haliade-X turbine. And analysts at the Belgium-based Global Wind Energy Council estimated in late September of this year that only nine existing vessels in the world could install turbines with a 10-MW capacity.

Wind advocates say the bottleneck is avoidable with an increase in private and public investment. Representatives from two of the offshore wind industry’s main trade groups, the American Wind Energy Association and the Business Network for Offshore Wind, either were unavailable or did not comment on the record.

But the industry has cited a lack of access to installation vessels as a concern in the past — particularly when U.S. shipbuilders push for a guaranteed right to construct the ships used in domestic projects (Energywire, Nov. 2).

In a document this month outlining priorities for the Biden administration and the next Congress, AWEA noted that there are no U.S.-flagged heavy-lift ships that could serve the offshore wind industry.

Getting access to foreign-made vessels already requires “long lead time,” the group wrote. Requiring the vessels to be made in U.S. shipyards — a priority of the Shipbuilders Council of America, a top trade group representing domestic shipyards — would “cause an abrupt stop to offshore wind development,” AWEA argued.

The Shipbuilders Council did not respond to a request for comment.