By Ian Mockett, Senior Market Director – Energy and Marine, COWI
In a bid to commercialise floating offshore wind and reach a levelized cost of energy that is palatable to consumers, companies globally are investing in research and development to drive technological advancement. With it, patent applications including ‘off-the-shelf’ floating solutions have surged, making up over half of all applications relating to offshore turbine substructures filed between 2015 and 2020*. In this blog we touch on four reasons as to why we need tailored solutions to commercialise floating offshore wind.
While most current offshore floating projects under development are limited in capacity, in order to prove the technology’s ability to scale, it’s important for the industry to take a serial production mindset even now. To do so successfully is to involve the developer and contractors at an early stage to collaborate on the project’s lifecycle – rather than have the design dictate the approach. This means the design becomes uniquely tailored to that specific project and accommodates specific opportunities and limitations.
Sustainability is a consideration too, particularly for those developers whose shareholders have a strong interest in scope 2 and 3 emissions. Of course, some solutions will always be more carbon intensive that others – depending on their steel and concrete content – however, procurement can also impact the project’s carbon footprint. While shipping steel components from Asia Pacific to Europe might be more cost competitive, depending on location, it can also be more carbon intensive in comparison to local suppliers.
Industry is increasingly focused on ease of onsite installation, and designs – such as semi-submersibles – that can simply be floated out of port intact and are seen as inherently advantageous. However, most offshore projects, both fixed and floating, are limited in some way by regional port and marine capabilities. Developing projects in regions with a history of constructing offshore structures – be it wind or oil and gas – will not necessarily face this same snag. However, the commercialisation of floating offshore wind could attract projects in all manner of locations – many of which may not have the same resources to rely on.
While floating offshore wind projects remain in their infancy, the question of port and marine capabilities may not be such an issue. If the industry is to reach zero production, it will become a key consideration and one that off-the-shelf solutions may not have the flexibility to accommodate. A tailored approach can flex to and conversely, take advantage of new capabilities and resources as they evolve.
While the industry is very attuned to developing projects that are sympathetic to their immediate environmental surroundings, developers find it more of a challenge to identify and quantify what further sustainability or social benefits a project might be able to achieve more broadly. In the long-term, not generating renewable electricity in the most sustainable way will eventually be seen as contradictory to the mission. When it comes to local communities, many project workers and their families are also energy customers, so investing in improving their future becomes a virtuous circle. The same can be said for investing in local content to create indigenous supply chains so that developers need not rely wholly on expertise beyond their local context.
A tailored approach to floating offshore wind development is the only truly viable way to achieve cost competitiveness. Anything less, risks leaving opportunities for cost savings and efficiencies unrealised and at worst, could stifle innovation and industry progress. Finally, this is not just a consideration for the established market. Emerging markets benefit greatly from taking an approach that will always get the most out of the project – be it cost, community or carbon – regardless of the confines at play.