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Why Wind is picking up speed

There’s a new offshore industry in town

Offshore wind power was expected to be the next big thing years ago, but got off to a faltering start; now though, there is real cause for excitement

Over the course of last year, many nations’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic prevented people from going into work, and the world economy took a major hit – some 4.4% of global GDP according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But something unusual happened; global CO2 emissions decoupled from GDP, dropping 7%.

Before 2020, it was tacitly accepted that as economies grow, so does pollution. But with many countries on the brink of a COVID-19 recovery, governments are now in a unique position to decide what kind of growth they want to have.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has suggested that renewable energy could be the answer. Growth in this industry could support employment, and the sky is the limit in terms of the potential for investment and returns. Most importantly, growth in renewable energy would be decoupled from CO2 emissions – something US President Joe Biden acknowledged in his campaign slogan.

“Build back better”

So, what to build? The maritime sector has an answer for us. In 2020, Germany generated 26.89TWh of energy from offshore wind turbines in the North Sea and Baltic.

The potential is staggering. By 2030, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) expects offshore wind to “go global”, adding 234GW of global capacity — 2240% of what current world leader, the UK, has installed so far. (To put this into perspective, in August, during a storm, wind energy provided almost 60% of UK needs.) Britain now has a pipeline of 41.3GW planned; China, 26.1GW.
But it is not only the sector that is growing: turbines have been getting larger, and Wind Turbine Installation Vessels (WTIVs), often jack-up units, have grown to match. These carry a turbine out to sea, and, holding in place using a DP system, anchor to the seabed using a set of four enormous legs, and then ‘jack up’ until the hull clears the waterline. From there, the vessel will lower the turbine into place.
Voltaire, set to be the world’s largest jack-up WTIV, is currently under construction in China, due for delivery in 2022. It already has work: it will install GE Haliade-X 12MW turbines, the largest in the world so far, at the UK’s Dogger Bank project. When completed, Dogger Bank, which consists of three 1.2GW phases, will amount to 3.6GW, or around 5% of the UK’s energy needs.


Across the Atlantic, investment in US projects is set to hit $78bn by 2030. But the Jones Act has given rise to a complex situation: the US does not have a WTIV. Keppel AmFELS, based in Brownsville, Texas, will change this. This month, it began a $500m construction project. Commissioned by Virginia’s Dominion Energy, the vessel will be the first Jones-Act WTIV when completed in 2023.
Dominion filed a Construction and Operations Plan (COP) for its Virginia project in December, and at 2.6GW, it is the largest of 15 proposed windfarms off the US East Coast. But with two huge coastlines and some 2,058GW of potential wind resource, it is likely that the number and scope of proposals in the US will drastically increase as more Jones-Act WTIVs are built.

But the Jones Act has given rise to another interesting situation. Non-compliant vessels can install wind turbines off US shores – only, they must launch from elsewhere, such as Canada. Trouble is, WTIVs carry turbines out to sea with them when they launch.

A new type of vessel has been devised to get around this: the SuperFeeder. US companies MiNO Marine and 2nd Wind Marine are consulting with US shipyards to build these unique DP2 jack-up vessels. Built and crewed by Americans, they would carry wind turbine pieces out to foreign WTIVs already moored on-site for installation. With SuperFeeders ferrying turbine components back and forth, a US offshore wind boom – if it were to happen, could still make ready use of foreign vessels.

In high demand

China, too, is expected to add some 52GW of wind energy capacity by the end of this decade, overtaking the UK. Even outside the US, WTIVs stand to be a wind industry “bottleneck” by 2025, according to analysts; with some 32 operating, and around five on order, shipyards will need all the help they can get to capitalise on the new offshore boom.