As readers of OWJ will have noticed, almost every newbuild offshore wind vessel ordered nowadays has some form of hybrid propulsion
The trend is most clearly seen in the service operation vessel (SOV) and crew transfer vessel (CTV) market, but even much larger vessels that are harder to decarbonise, such as turbine installation vessels, are being specified with battery packs with the capacity to reduce fuel consumption and technology for the regeneration of power from their jacking systems and cranes.
Ships serving the offshore wind industry are also being designed and built to be capable of using a shore connection, allowing them to reduce emissions by drawing electrical power from the shore rather than running engines in port. Vessels with these features are described in the forthcoming Q3 2021 issue of OWJ, as are concepts such as offshore charging that would enable CTVs with battery packs to recharge at sea.
The offshore wind industry is rightly seen as a leader in the decarbonisation of shipping, but a report and roadmap published by the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and Workboat Association suggests a lot remains to be done to ensure the ships that serve offshore windfarms really are ‘green.’ As the report notes, in the operations and maintenance (O&M) phase of an offshore windfarm, which can be anything from 25-30 years, asset owners rely on vessels which mainly use marine gas oil, a fuel that produces many hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 per year when burnt in ships’ engines.
Engagement with windfarm owners and operators suggests there is a desire to significantly reduce emissions associated with O&M and to adopt cleaner technology wherever possible. Also, as the report notes, the offshore wind industry has the potential to act as a ‘springboard,’ providing early adoption of technologies and market models that can assist broader maritime decarbonisation.
The findings of the roadmap are evidence-based and have been arrived at following desk-based
research, market scenario modelling and extensive industry engagement. The breadth of engagement has helped ensure the findings reflect challenges and opportunities commonly recognised throughout the industry rather than focusing on issues that affect only a smaller subsection of offshore wind stakeholders.
An opportunity clearly exists to use offshore wind ships as enablers for the decarbonisation of other parts of the shipping industry, but there are also challenges to overcome. Among these are the cost differential between conventional marine fuels and alternative electrical or clean fuels; and the high capital cost of emerging clean maritime technology and the need for demonstration support to break the ‘chicken and egg’ challenge. There is, the authors of the report also note, a lack of clarity over future fuel pathways and the resulting lack of infrastructure and investment security. More needs to be done to incentivise support structures for decarbonisation.
Another issue – one surely not unique to the offshore wind sector – is that the level of data concerning current emissions baselines and the performance of clean maritime alternatives needs to improve.
There are, the report notes, also challenges to overcome concerning spatial and grid constraints in ports and the high capital costs of infrastructure upgrades. Last but by no means least – and once again these issues apply to the rest of the shipping industry, not just offshore wind – there is the question of what to do about the large numbers of existing vessels; the need to consider the challenge of retrofitting vessels; and the lack of clear direction in terms of targets or deadlines for the transition to clean propulsion solutions.
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