The design of service operation vessels (SOVs) for the US market needs to be re-examined to ensure they suit the way US yards work, industry leaders told delegates at Offshore Wind Journal’s latest offshore wind webinar
Costs need to come down and the marine industry needs to simplify the design and construction of SOVs to align them with US requirements, delegates at the second webinar in Offshore Wind Week heard.
In the webinar, SOVs set sail for new markets, presenters argued that high-spec, expensive SOVs of the type that have become commonplace in Europe are not what the US market needs.
“US yards are solutions-oriented and very capable,” said American Bureau of Shipping senior vice president, global offshore markets Matthew Tremblay, but SOVs for the US market would inevitably be different to those designed and built elsewhere because of the requirements of the Jones Act and US Coast Guard regulations, which differ from those in Europe.
Vard Marine US vice president Houston Darren Truelock described US yards as “cost-conscious,” and used to working with simpler, ‘less dense’ vessel arrangements that are more cost-effective.
US yards also have higher labour rates than their counterparts in other countries and a government-led drive to build more US Navy vessels means there are fewer slots available at yards than there would otherwise be, presenters explained.
Seacor Marine vice president of engineering Tim Clerc said when there is a big government-led shipbuilding programme, it is inevitable that costs rise. What is more, he said, SOVs tend to be one-off projects too, and hence more costly than series-constructed vessels.
Presenters agreed that the net effect of all of the above is that, given expected day rates, it may be difficult to build SOVs at US yards that are economically viable. “Owners need to be able make money on the vessels they operate,” said Mr Clerc.
The solution, said Shell global category manager marine Bo Jardine, is to develop US-specific designs. But interestingly, these US designs might not only be used in America. As offshore wind goes global, they could find applications around the world, he suggested.
Mr Jardine also suggested that cost growth in SOVs “could create headwinds for the market,” if not satisfactorily addressed. One important way to avoid unnecessary cost and to develop SOV designs that are better suited to the US market is collaboration throughout the supply chain, led by charterers, Mr Jardine believes.
“I think the industry needs to challenge assumptions, and standardise and simplify SOVs,” said Mr Jardine. “Do we really need towers for gangways of the type that we find on vessels nowadays?” he asked, describing them as “driving up costs.” A less complex access system would be efficient and still work well, he suggested. “Not every boat needs a tower.”
Simplifying designs is a sentiment Mr Truelock agreed with, citing a need for ‘maturation work’ to develop SOV designs that are suited to US build and operation, something Vard has been engaged on for a couple of years. “The US will need SOVs that are producible and more cost-effective to build,” he said.
Ulstein Design & Solutions sales manager global offshore wind Kolbjørn Moldskred made another important point: when designing SOVs for any market, it is essential to ask what the benefit is for a windfarm technician of any design feature or item of equipment. If there is no clear and obvious benefit, it was likely to be a cost-driver rather than something that helps technicians do their job that ultimately reduces the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) from offshore wind.
Presenters in the webinar agreed with Mr Clerc’s assertion that SOVs have become a ‘guiding light’ in the decarbonisation of shipping, and with his view that although there are a lot of offshore support vessels that need to find work, converting them into SOVs is not necessarily a good option. One reason why conversions might not be the best option is that few oil and gas vessels are ready for future fuels and hybrid propulsion. Turning them into the kind of green ships offshore wind needs would be problematic, but there are other question marks about conversions too.
“Conversion is a tough road,” said Mr Clerc. “One of the biggest issues is getting the level of functionality you need. Compared to offshore oil and gas, offshore wind is a more demanding environment. You cannot do a lot with a platform supply vessel or an anchor-handling tug/supply vessel. I would counsel extreme caution and research before embarking on a conversion. A PSV is designed around non-human payload. SOVs are all about designing a vessel around a team of workers. You need a technician-centric vessel.”
Mr Clerc and Mr Jardine agreed that it is unlikely a charterer in the offshore wind industry planning to take a vessel on a long-term charter – potentially for 10-15 years – would want to start out with a converted SOV that was already five years old.
“The challenge is on to build less expensive SOVs,” Mr Jardine concluded. In his view, rather than being a disadvantage, the Jones Act and the need for Jones Act vessels for the US market could actually be an advantage, because successful American designs might be better suited to export markets in other countries.
Asked whether new SOV designs should incorporate green energy and alternative fuel technology regardless of current availability, most respondents agreed that they should. Asked how SOV designs can best contribute to LCOE reduction, 46% said higher operability was the most important solution, closely followed by 39% who believed that reducing fuel consumption was the most promising avenue.
Questioned about the greatest challenges facing development of SOVs for offshore wind projects in the US, 62% said build costs were the biggest challenge, reaffirming the presenters’ arguments. 21% said the Jones Act was the biggest challenge.