David Foxwell reflects on how new-generation crew transfer vessels better suit the green credentials of the offshore wind industry
Here is an analogy that might tell us something about the future direction of the crew transfer vessel market.
Just prior to the crash in the oil price, designers and owners of offshore support vessels for the oil and gas industry were developing new types of vessel that had environmentally friendly hybrid propulsion systems. Some shipowners had already transitioned to ships that used more fuel-efficient diesel-electric propulsion. Then they focused on vessels that used liquified natural gas in their engines, because it was a greener form of fuel. Then designers came forward with vessels that incorporated batteries, which were greener still.
Not many of these hybrid-powered vessels with batteries were ordered before the downturn in the oil and gas market, but more and more ships of that type have been converted as that market picks up. One of the reasons shipowners are doing so is that certain clients – that is, oil companies such as Equinor – have begun to assess tenders for vessels on environmental performance and emissions, in addition to price. Shipowners needed a USP as the market recovered, and ‘green propulsion’ was that USP.
The offshore wind market is not going through a downturn, quite the opposite, but owners of crew transfer vessels (CTVs) have recognised that they too need a USP, and that green propulsion can be their USP too. After all, why service an industry producing clean energy with workboats that produce pollution?
In March 2019, Vattenfall signed a contract with Windcat Workboats for CTVs for the Hollandse Kust Zuid 1 & 2 offshore windfarm in the Dutch sector of the North Sea. Windcat Workboats is working with CMB Technologies on developing a hydrogen-powered CTV, an option that is expected to be available to Vattenfall by 2020. If it takes up the option of using hydrogen-powered CTVs it could be the first to do so.
More recently, another leading owner of crew transfer vessels announced it is introducing a new class of vessel with a hybrid propulsion system that will enable it to operate with much reduced emissions, or without creating CO2 emissions at all. Northern Offshore Services said its E-class vessels would be significantly more fuel-efficient than earlier classes of CTV. The vessels will be fitted with engines but will also have batteries fitted that can be charged from shore or when offshore, in a windfarm.
The innovative E-class will have four main modes of propulsion, including ECO-mode, when the CTV will be operated on a diesel genset at low speed with support from the batteries. This mode of operation will result in significant fuel savings and reduced emissions when the CTV is in standby mode. The E-class will also be able to operate in pure battery mode, without any CO2 emissions, when operations allow. As Northern Offshore Services’ chief executive David Kristensson said, “The future is green and the E-class is our first step towards a fully electrified CTV fleet.” The first E-class vessel, Energizer, is due to be delivered to the company at the end of 2020.
Mr Kristensson is absolutely right. Electrification or using greener fuels such as hydrogen is the future. I have no doubt the E-class will be popular with the companies that contract for CTV services as will Windcat Workboats’ hydrogen-powered vessels. Vattenfall, a client for CTVs, has taken a lead with its interest in more environmentally friendly vessels. Other developers and O&M providers will undoubtedly follow.