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Ocean winds

As the world tries to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, wind power is growing in popularity. Offshore turbines are an excellent source of renewable energy, but their remote location makes operation and maintenance a challenge. The marine sector is crucial in keeping these powerful turbines turning.

Offshore wind farms are on the rise—especially as new floating wind turbines open up new areas of the sea to the wind power sector. The maritime industry is instrumental in the growth of this renewable energy source, with numerous types of ships dedicated to supporting offshore wind. These include vessels for installing wind turbines, laying cables, transporting service personnel, and carrying equipment, tools, and supplies.

New opportunities come with new challenges

In search of stronger winds, wind power companies are building turbines further and further out at sea. The deeper waters and stronger waves there have driven an evolution in wind farm support vessels (WSFVs). No longer are WSFVs just repurposed fishing and workboats; they are now larger, equipped with more powerful cranes, and capable of handling high seas.

This trend presents the maritime industry with promising market opportunities. Particularly in the United States, where there is currently a surge in demand for offshore wind turbines, there is a rush to build new jack-up vessels, cable-laying vessels, and service operations vessels. Not only will this provide a boost to the shipbuilding sector, but it will also provide jobs in the long term as turbines require maintenance. However, regulation is struggling to keep up with the rapid growth. For one, class notation for crew transfer vessels and hotel ships is still ambiguous. But also, strict cabotage laws such as the Jones Act in the USA can create further complications.

A clash of wind and water

In addition to the stronger winds at sea, offshore wind farms are also a popular solution because they are less likely to be seen as an eyesore. But they can be a cause of conflict with maritime transport. Especially in areas of intense shipping activity, there are concerns that large wind farms increase traffic density. Support vessels crossing busy shipping routes can also cause disruption and raise the risk of accidents. Diversions around wind farms are not always the ideal solution as they increase transit times and emissions.

Collaboration between the two sectors seems to be the answer. There are numerous organizations, such as the Marine Management Organization and the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, that encourage partnerships and joint ventures. Through communication and joint planning, these alliances can minimize disruption to shipping and fishing. In the Netherlands, for example, research and risk assessments were conducted to resolve concerns about new wind farms. It’s clear that by working together, offshore wind power and the shipping industry can help each other grow and prosper.