New turbine installations will treble capacity to 20 GW by 2030, while offshore investment is expected to exceed US$525Bn – good news for the walk-to-work sector
Demand for walk-to-work (W2W) vessels and the associated gangway technology will increase rapidly over the next decade, driven by more than US$525Bn of offshore hydrocarbon projects and huge growth in offshore windfarm installations worldwide.
W2W vessels are highly adaptable to requirements in both the offshore renewables and offshore oil and gas sectors. For example. Bibby Marine Services’ Bibby WaveMaster 1 and Bibby WaveMaster Horizon were designed as similar ships, with one operating in North Sea oil and gas and the other in offshore windfarm construction.
On the subject of demand, BloombergNEF analyst Imogen Brown told delegates at Riviera Maritime Media’s Offshore Wind Journal Conference that new offshore wind turbine capacity worldwide will more than treble over the next decade, from around 6 GW in 2020 to more than 20 GW.
This investment will be focused largely in existing markets of northern Europe, mainly the UK, Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.
There will however be new markets for offshore wind, notably China and Taiwan, coupled with multiple projects in the US, as energy companies finally cotton on to the potential of offshore wind. Floating turbine technology will introduce new markets for offshore support vessels in South Korea, France, Norway, Greece and Spain.
W2W vessels are increasingly used for maintenance on larger facilities, such as floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels and floating production platforms.
In 2019, Ampelmann assisted DeepOcean on a W2W vessel for an Aker BP project in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. The project involved installing an E-type gangway system on the W2W vessel to support the hook-up and commissioning of the Valhall Flank West project, providing safe transfer of key personnel to the normally unmanned installation.
Top 10 nations for wind turbine installations this decade
With more floating and fixed installations coming on stream each year and growing requirements for W2W vessels on decommissioning projects, the coming decade is shaping up to be one of great demand for these assets.
Westwood Global Energy head of offshore rigs and wells Thom Payne forecasts capital expenditure on new offshore projects will average US$131Bn per annum between 2020 and 2023, with Australia and Brazil leading the way.
He says oil companies have increased cash flows since 2017 by reducing field development costs per barrel and operating expenditure. He notes improved margins mean more cash to be invested in future projects.
“Bringing costs down is why they have been able to generate such great returns of capital employed, even with the oil price hovering around US$60,” explains Mr Payne.
Rystad Energy partner Simon Sjøthun says shallow water offshore production worldwide is expected to remain 15-16M barrels per day (b/d), while deepwater production could rise by 1% per annum, from 9M b/d.
Mr Payne says he expects a “step change” in offshore exploration and production spending in 2020: “These companies have been sitting on portfolios for a very long time, waiting to get them back into the water. We are thinking about US$131Bn per annum will be spent on new offshore projects over the next four years.” This will clearly have a positive impact on demand for OSVs, especially those with W2W systems on board.
ABS director and lead for the OSV sector, Dr Wei Huang, thinks deepwater projects will dominate global investment to 2025. She forecast 32 orders for mobile production units in 2020-21, including FPSOs, semi-submersibles, spars, tension-leg platforms and jack-ups. There could be another 31 orders in 2022-23 and then 28 mobile production units in 2024-25.
In the Americas, expenditure will be dominated by deepwater projects in Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and Guyana. Dr Huang forecasts orders for 21 FPSOs in Brazil, three in Mexico, three in Guyana and three floating production systems in the US by 2025. W2W vessels are increasingly used for accommodation support on these projects.
W2W service vessels
Pareto Shipbrokers senior broker and analyst Inger Louise Molver confirms the service operations vessel (SOV) arena (including W2W vessels) is increasing, with new markets coming from the subsea installation and maintenance sectors. “SOVs are built to be used in subsea markets,” she says. “There has been a downturn in recent years, but we are seeing more redevelopments and final investment decisions for subsea developments.”
Ms Molver also believes decommissioning will be a prime market for W2W vessels. “More maintenance and decommissioning projects will increase demand,” she says.
The development of offshore wind parks in deeper waters will also boost demand, notes Ms Molver: “As offshore wind moves into deepwater with floating turbines there will be more maintenance and accommodation requirements. Vessels will need to meet the safety and environmental needs.”
ABS’ Dr Huang says demand for W2W vessels will rise in line with offshore renewable energy markets and expects a boost in demand from offshore fishfarms.
Offshore capital expenditure forecast
2020 – US$143Bn
2021 – US$130Bn
2022 – US$129Bn
2023 – US$125Bn
Dr Huang highlights interest in the US for offshore windfarms and supporting vessels and points to growing interest in building new SOVs for the US sector, where Jones Act regulations restricts the use of foreign built, owned and crewed vessels.
Another option, she said, was to retrofit existing OSVs with gangways to repurpose them for offshore renewables. This would enable offshore renewables contractors to overcome common challenges, such as personnel safety during transfer, tackling offshore environmental conditions and reducing logistical and operational costs.
“We expect W2W gangways will be used to connect to fixed and floating assets,” says Dr Huang. “They will need motion compensation systems to increase operational flexibility for the US East coast conditions and for efficient access to facilities.”
ABS provides guidance on offshore access gangways, whether they are passive motion or have active motion compensation. Its services in this sector include information on structure strength and machinery systems and it provides risk assessments, testing and surveys and onboard registers for gangways.
“We look at the connection and landing point of the gangway and conduct risk assessments,” says Dr Huang. “Gangways are part of an integrated solution as it connects the vessel and facility.”
DNV GL Maritime principal specialist for DP simulations Luca Pivano agrees, citing a method of modelling gangways as part of a complete ship system. DNV GL is involved in the development of the Open Simulation Platform (OSP) – a simulation tool which allows stakeholders to create vessel digital twins and model the impact of complex systems.
“It will enable collaboration to help solve challenges with complex, integrated systems and software,” says Mr Pivano. “When systems go on board they do not work alone. Everything needs to follow the same script. Instruments and software from different manufacturers need a strong integrator.”
Mr Pivano highlights the example of OSP being used to develop an OSV for the maintenance of offshore windfarms with a W2W system. He says the gangway initially proposed for the vessel was designed to operate in maximum wave heights of 3 m. However, when installed on the digital twin the vessel’s maritime stability changed, meaning it could only operate in wave heights up to 2 m, reducing the sea and weather window of operations.
Mr Pivano says that using the digital twin, the vessel and its subsystems could be designed, tested, changed, optimised and retested in different sea conditions.
Global demand for mobile production systems
2020 - 15
2021 - 17
2022 - 16
2023 - 15
2024 - 14
2025 - 14
(FPSO, semi-submersible, spar, tension-leg platform, jack-up, but excludes fixed platforms)
Kongsberg Maritime product advisor for maritime operations Kristian Ivar Oien also feels that gangway operations should be integrated with vessel motions. He says dynamic positioning (DP) will maintain a vessel on station and active heave compensation on the gangway will keep it in position on a turbine or production unit.
Van Aalst Group chief executive Wijnand van Aalst agrees: “An important aspect is the integration of the gangway with the vessel’s DP; everything needs to work together.”
Mr van Aalst continues: “It is important to collect data from the vessel’s automation systems, to analyse and learn from this data.” By doing so, users gain more information to ensure the safest operation of their gangways.
New W2W projects to be deployed
Ampelmann has introduced a new full motion-compensation gangway system for operations in rough seas. The E5000 W2W system will have the ability to transfer personnel and cargo up to 5,000 kg in high sea states. It has full motion compensation to extend the weather window of operations. “We recognised an opportunity to develop a system that can transfer people and lift up to five tonnes of cargo,” said Ampelmann offshore wind business unit manager Diederick Nierstrasz. “That significantly broadens the possibilities of the offshore lifting scope compared to existing systems,” he said.
The E5000 can switch between people and cargo mode in less than a minute. The company says it will enable vessel operators to offer shorter campaign durations, increase logistical efficiency and provide a broader scope of work.
Elsewhere, Uptime International has clinched a contract to supply an access solution for the LNG marine terminal on BP’s Greater Tortue Ahmeyim LNG project, offshore Mauritania and Senegal.
The contract includes engineering a supply of two large motion-compensated gangways, pedestals and stair-towers to span between the hub and a floating LNG vessel.
Uptime anticipates the project will take 12 months to completion. BP plans to install an FPSO to split liquids from the gas stream, which will be processed on the FLNG facility. LNG will be piped to the hub for tanker export and gas will be pumped to shore to a power plant.