It’s often claimed that floating wind needs demonstrators to help technology transition to commercialisation. But Aker Solutions’ head of offshore wind Astrid Onsum doesn’t agree.
As Ms Onsum told OWJ, the Norwegian company already has “proven technical solutions” to many of the technical challenges floating wind faces. In fact, Ms Onsum and her colleagues believe the key challenges floating wind faces are not technical at all, but regulatory and those associated with developing the supply chain.
Ms Onsum says Aker Solutions agrees that there is a need for financial support to help early floating wind projects, of the type that set bottom-fixed offshore on the glide path to startling cost reduction. But she believes that floating wind is already at the point where it can be scaled up for large, commercial-scale projects.
“We have a track record in floating systems, subsea umbilicals, power cables and offshore power systems that goes back 40 years,” she tells OWJ, highlighting Aker Solutions’ experience of designing, delivering and servicing semi-submersible drilling and production platforms for the offshore oil and gas industry.
Putting its money firmly and squarely behind its belief in technology readiness and its applicability to offshore wind, the company is backing low-carbon technology and has already invested in renewable energy. Now, it says, it plans to steadily renew its portfolio with offshore wind, generating around half of its revenue from renewable or low-carbon solutions by 2030.
Announcing the company’s ‘20/25/30’ strategy in October, Aker Solutions said oil and gas will remain its largest market but, over the next decade, it will have a more balanced portfolio of products and technology that either generates renewable energy or removes or substantially reduces CO2 emissions.
As Aker Solutions chief executive Luis Araujo said, “The world will continue to see rising energy demand, and the challenge for our industry is the need to deliver this with significantly lower carbon emissions. No company is better positioned than Aker Solutions to deliver the solutions to realise renewable energy offshore and at the same time decarbonise the oil and gas industry.”
Aker Solutions already has a 23% stake in Principle Power, which has a proven concept for floating wind, and is involved in large-scale windfarm developments in California and South Korea. Working with WindPower Korea and EDP Renewables, the company recently formed a consortium to develop a 500-MW floating windfarm off the coast of Ulsan City in South Korea. Principle Power, which had a role in originating the KFWind project portfolio, will supply its WindFloat foundation for the project. Working with Aker Solutions and Principle Power, California energy authority RCEA recently submitted a lease application to advance the first commercial-scale project for floating offshore wind in the US.
Ms Onsum says Aker Solutions decided to enter the offshore wind industry three years ago. It has been assessing the maturity of floating wind technology since then and believes it is ready to be scaled up.
“We’re not saying that there isn’t some technology development to be done to make floating wind a reality,” she told OWJ, “but we are confident that by bringing all of our experience de-risking huge offshore projects to floating wind that there is a development pathway for supply chains that are customised to the needs of individual markets, whether that’s in California or Korea or the UK.
“We are keenly following a number of promising markets around the world,” Ms Onsum told OWJ. “Scotland is a market where floating wind has significant potential. Norway is another. In each region, supply chain requirements and the collaboration model that works best may differ, but with ambition and the right kind of support from government, floating wind is poised to take off.
“In Korea, the government is using stimulation to attract development,” she explained, “and we have had very encouraging engagement with regulators in California. We see steps being taken there and elsewhere to encourage development and to encourage the formation of a supply chain.”
Ms Onsum’s confidence that floating wind is already ready to be scaled up comes in part from experience to date with solutions such as Principle Power’s WindFloat foundation, and partly from the fact that it has already developed floating solutions of the type floating wind needs.
Principle Power’s semi-submersible concept has already been successfully demonstrated in a number of projects. “We expect that when we begin to achieve scale, the cost of floating wind will decline quickly, as it did in the bottom-fixed sector,” Ms Onsum says. “We plan to use WindFloat to achieve scale in this industry.”
Asked whether the company is only looking at Principle Power’s semi-submersible or is ‘technology agnostic,’ and sees potential applications for Spars or tension-leg platforms, Ms Onsum says the WindFloat is the primary focus of Aker Solutions’ dive into the floating wind market because Principle Power has a head start in floating wind, but the company has experience of working with all kinds of floating technology.
Much of Ms Onsum’s confidence also comes from the company’s long experience designing and engineering complex offshore systems of its own. She says Aker Solutions expects to be a leading provider of solutions for floating turbines, floating and subsea substations, dynamic array cables and export cables and landfalls. Asked about the need to develop substations, Ms Onsum says Aker Solutions “is ready with a floating substation.”
“There are lot of myths around floating wind,” she claims. Among these, in her view, are that new industry standards are required, that mooring and anchoring systems are too expensive and that floating substation concepts and dynamic cabling solutions aren’t ready yet. Other myths include the fact that the environmental effects of floaters haven’t been documented and that we don’t understand wake effects.
“We have been designing and engineering technology for oil and gas for many years that is applicable to floating wind,” Ms Onsum concludes. “We are very comfortable around cabling for floating wind and understand dynamic cables. They are already being manufactured. Where we do see a need for improvement is in the regulatory space and the supply chain,” she told OWJ, “but we know we already have the technology in place and that it can be transferred to the renewables sector.”
Super-synergies in Norwegian industry
Apart from South Korea, the US and UK, Ms Onsum says Aker Solutions sees tremendous potential for floating wind in Norway and huge potential benefits for Norwegian industry.
“We are really excited about the Norwegian government’s consultation on offshore wind and floating wind,” she says. “Norway has some of the best wind resource in the world, and the oil and gas and marine supply chains lend themselves ideally to floating wind.
“There are also important synergies we can exploit in related industries and as a result of Norway’s growing focus on electrification of power.
“In the shipping space there is fast-growing interest in future fuels and in green hydrogen from offshore wind power,” she notes, highlighting Aker Solutions role in the Zero Emission Energy Distribution at Sea (ZEEDS) consortium, in which it is working alongside Wärtsilä, Kvaerner, Equinor, DFDS and Grieg Star on the concept of an ‘ecosystem’ of clean energy hubs offshore.