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Winds of change

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Energy Global,

As the world sets its sights on a decarbonised future, the power potential of the ocean beckons with a solution: floating offshore wind. This industry, buoyed by ambitious targets and technological advancements, promises to be a critical player in the production of clean, abundant renewable energy. However, harnessing its potential requires more than just new wind turbines and floating platforms. It demands a strategic partnership with another established force on the seas: the maritime industry.

While projections vary, several organisations’ projections for floating wind paint a promising picture. For example, global assurance and risk management leader, DNV, forecasts that approximately 300 GW of floating wind will be installed by 2050, representing roughly 15% of all offshore wind capacity (2000 GW estimated) globally. Countries such as the UK, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Japan, China, and South Korea are leading the charge on offshore wind developments, deploying ambitious projects and driving technological innovation. The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) echoes this sentiment, predicting that by 2030, offshore wind will be providing 25% of Europe’s electricity.

Steering this global voyage are industry giants like Ørsted, GE Energy, Siemens Gamesa, and Vestas, wielding their expertise to craft efficient turbines and robust foundations. But the winds of change are blowing. Up-and-coming organisations are challenging the status quo with cost-reducing, game-changing platforms and modular designs. This dynamic landscape underscores the potential for collaboration between established maritime players and floating offshore wind developers.

Geographical constraints pose a significant hurdle to overall wind development, but particularly for fixed-bottom offshore wind, with shallow waters restricting development and deepwater zones often inaccessible with traditional fixed-bottom platforms. Floating wind platforms are the lifelines that are unlocking these previously underutilised areas. The Carbon Trust estimates that by 2050, floating wind could contribute a staggering 80% of global offshore wind capacity, highlighting its crucial role in navigating these choppy waters.

Environmental considerations add another layer of complexity. Interactions with marine life and potential impacts on fragile ecosystems require careful mitigation strategies. Collaborative research, lessons learned from fixed-bottom offshore, and development efforts between floating offshore wind and maritime experts can play a crucial role in developing effective solutions like spatial planning, acoustic deterrents, sustainability, and responsible construction practices. The DNV report ‘Floating Wind: Turning Ambition Into Action’ emphasises the need for increased research and innovation in addressing environmental concerns, highlighting the potential for cross-industry collaboration to accelerate progress.

Knowledge and collaboration

One area of immense opportunity lies in knowledge sharing and collaborative ventures. Combining the maritime industry’s established logistics and operational expertise and shipbuilding’s longstanding fabrication, manufacturing, and assembly processes with the offshore wind industry’s technologies and project management skills will enable all sectors to achieve greater efficiency and cost reductions. There is significant potential for joint ventures in areas like port infrastructure development, vessel optimisation, and training programmes, paving the way for a more collaborative and successful future, as well as job creation and skills development.

In December 2023, wind power association WindEurope led 300 wind sector companies and 26 EU Energy Ministers to sign the European Wind Charter, endorsing the committed actions laid out in the EU Wind Power Package, which, among other important issues, advocates for stronger collaboration between governments, developers, and maritime stakeholders to address regulatory and permitting challenges, paving the way for faster and more efficient project development.

Several recent reports serve as guidance for the offshore wind and maritime industries. The DNV report ‘Global Offshore Wind Outlook 2050’ highlights the need for accelerated deployment, calling for annual installations to quadruple by 2030 and reach 1 TW by 2035. Similarly, the European Wind Charter emphasises the importance of cost reduction, technological innovation, and robust supply chains to achieve ambitious offshore wind targets. These reports underscore the potential for those in various blue economy industries (floating offshore wind energy, shipbuilding, maritime, etc.) to learn from each other and leverage their combined expertise to overcome shared challenges.

Traditional oil and gas offshore wind platforms, tethered to the seabed like colossal titans, have served well, but their limitations are becoming apparent. Lighter, modular platforms that float gracefully upon the waves offer a new paradigm. These designs boast several advantages, including faster deployment, lower material costs, and easier scalability. By collaborating with maritime engineers, marine architects, and shipbuilding experts, floating offshore wind developers can further refine these floating platform designs, optimising them for diverse wind farm needs and challenging maritime environments.

Beyond platforms, collaboration can lead to innovations in vessel design and operation. Wind-powered ships for short-distance routes and hybrid propulsion systems for longer journeys present viable alternatives to traditional fossil fuel-powered vessels, contributing to the maritime industry’s decarbonisation efforts. Furthermore, through joint ventures and knowledge-sharing, initiatives can accelerate research and development efforts into onboard wind turbines, fuel cell technologies, and optimised logistics systems. No ship sails alone, and navigating the vast ocean of offshore wind demands a strong and sustainable crew. Building a robust supply chain is integral to this journey, and it is here that the shipbuilding and maritime industries’ expertise aligns perfectly with the floating offshore wind sector’s needs.

Floating offshore wind projects present a golden opportunity for economic development in coastal communities. The potential for creating significant green jobs in shipbuilding, port operations, construction, and maintenance exists. Collaborative efforts between developers and maritime stakeholders can ensure local communities benefit from these opportunities, promoting inclusivity and fostering a sense of shared ownership in the clean energy transition.


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Energy Global's Spring 2024 issue

The Spring 2024 issue of Energy Global starts with a guest comment from Field on how battery storage sites can serve as a viable solution to curtailed energy, before moving on to a regional report from Théodore Reed-Martin, Editorial Assistant, Energy Global, looking at the state of renewables in Europe. This issue also hosts an array of technical articles on electrical infrastructure, turbine and blade monitoring, battery storage technology, coatings, and more.

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