There is rising demand for the vessels needed to install and support offshore windfarm development in the United States as projects begin to take shape off the US east and west coasts, Great Lakes and Hawaii, says ABS director global offshore Dr Wei Huang
The US Department of Energy has projected that offshore wind power could reach 22 GW of installed capacity by 2030 and 86 GW – roughly equal to current US capacity of onshore wind – by 2050.
The boom in offshore windfarm construction has created a wave of interest that could have positive implications for vessel designers and shipyards as well as operators of existing tonnage. It also poses a number of challenges.
The construction and maintenance of offshore windfarms calls for a combination of expertise that is comparatively new to the US market and requires a variety of specialist support tonnage. This tonnage includes jack-up construction units, survey vessels, service operation vessels, cable-laying ships and crew transfer vessels.
Offshore windfarm construction is a hot topic globally, with a mature market in Europe feeding growing interest in the US and Asia. The question North American developers are asking is how to bring European experience to the US and customise it for local conditions and regulations.
Over the last 12 months and more, ABS has fielded numerous enquiries from European owners and designers seeking to access the US market.
As a leader in the US oil and gas industry and the global offshore support vessel market, ABS is supporting this trend; providing asset classification and advice on regulatory and operational issues, putting its global experience in offshore energy and renewables projects at the disposal of project developers.
The vessels required for this new wave of offshore windfarms are at once larger and more technically sophisticated than those of the first generation. The capacity of transport and installation vessels must be large enough to handle components for wind turbine arrays of 9.5-10 MW capacity and higher. This will require incorporating additional capability on the vessel including larger crane capacity to handle the components.
In attempting to access the US market, European owners must also consider ownership structure – typically forming a joint venture that puts the project under American ownership.
From a market perspective, European developers must understand ‘cultural differences’ too. The pioneering years of European offshore windfarm development relied on considerable government subsidy and support, since national administrations were keen to demonstrate their green credentials.
The US offshore windfarm market is entirely commercial in its composition and European companies issuing tenders to US shipyards have been surprised at the price levels quoted for newbuilds. Because installation, feeder and transport vessels will operate in territorial waters they might be subject to the Jones Act, which means that capex and opex costs will be higher.
ABS has worked with owners and designers to provide guidance on regulatory compliance as related to their strategies to simplify and optimise vessel designs, and we have also worked with industry to investigate using existing OSV tonnage in a conversion scenario.
While local operating conditions must be considered, fundamentally, OSVs do present a conversion opportunity to windfarm support vessels by adding a walk-to-work solution for crew transfer.
One of our main tasks is to work with the US Coast Guard (USCG) to understand how far OSV tonnage can be converted for use in a windfarm environment. Over and above the fundamental Jones Act requirements for build, flag, class and crew, the USCG has requirements and a roadmap for regulating all types of windfarm vessels but it offers the potential for using OSVs.
Specifically, USCG defines ’offshore supply vessel’ as a motor vessel that regularly carries goods, supplies, individuals in addition to the crew, or equipment in support of exploration, exploitation, or production of offshore mineral or energy resources.
As wind energy is included as an energy resource, vessels engaged in windfarm development or operation, including installation, maintenance, turbine transport, crew transfers, heavy lifting and cable laying may properly be certificated by the Coast Guard as an OSV.
Though Europe is still dominant in current capacity terms, strong growth in offshore windfarm projects in North America and Asia creates a similar opportunity to utilise some of the larger OSV tonnage not employed on conventional energy projects. This could help to absorb some of the overhang of tonnage originally built for the offshore industry and currently idle.