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Overcoming supply challenges with collaboration

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Energy Global,

Since the Paris Agreement, global governments and leaders have outlined, defined, and refined their net zero aspirations, targets, and, more recently, frameworks. As a result, the last two years have seen a significant increase in the number of global seabed leases being awarded for new offshore wind farms or extensions to existing offshore wind farms.

Due to events in Ukraine, many countries are now accelerating their plans to move away from dependency on other countries to supply their energy needs; notably both the UK and the US have announced commitments to accelerate the installation of offshore wind farms in their respective countries.

New leases have encouraged new offshore wind developers to move into the market. This, alongside the accelerated commitments, means that the global offshore wind market is looking to those with experience to help navigate these challenging demands. The world is looking at the existing UK and European supply chain to share its experiences and lessons learned; to mitigate repeated mistakes and to move the sector forward at the speed now required.

The recent GWEC report1 references analysis undertaken by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) of the human resource requirements of the onshore2 and offshore wind industry3. The analysis states that each offshore wind development requires 2.1 million person days of effort for a 500 MW fixed bottom to move from the development stage through to decommissioning. By comparison, only 144 000 person days of effort are required for a 50 MW onshore wind farm. The environmental differences between onshore and offshore developments are clear. As a result, offshore wind developments rely on the harmonious efforts across an extensive number of independent organisations, all resulting in points of interface; developers, designers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), certifiers, marine warranty surveyors, fabricators, installers, and operations and maintenance teams, to name but a few.

The last 20 years of offshore wind in the UK and Europe have demonstrated that the overall success of a project is determined by how well aligned and managed project interfaces are. There are a significant number of specialist companies and organisations that need to align for each project to be planned, designed, fabricated, installed, and operated. There is no time in the history of offshore wind that this challenge has been more important to overcome than now.

The increase in demand is putting significant pressure on all parts of the existing supply chain, whether that is in the shape of available installation vessels, suitable fabrication facilities, availability of component parts or material, capacity and suitability of ports and harbours, or suitably qualified and trained people. It is no surprise that the market is heading towards colossal supply and demand challenges and the additional costs that demand will bring. Perhaps the reducing cost base seen in offshore wind is about to change?

In addition to mobilising the experience developed and gained in the last 20 years in the fixed bottom offshore wind industry, the global markets are in parallel pushing forward with the more novel floating offshore wind. Whilst floating wind is seeing similar challenges to fixed bottom, there are a few differences; of note, different manufacturing, assembly, and wind turbine generator (WTG) integration requirements. In combination with the high levels of uncertainty on hull size, shape, and WTG size, how does the supply chain know where to invest? There is some good work being led by ORE Catapult Floating Offshore Wind Centre of Excellence to begin to address this, but the reality is the floating offshore wind journey is still at the beginning.

So how can the offshore wind market share the lessons of experience, manage, and provide the required resources and meet the aspirations and targets as set out to be net zero?

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