Enabling green growth

Enabling green growth

Offshore wind is blowing hot, with extraordinary growth forecast through to 2050. Although opportunities for ambitious operators of wind turbine installation vessels (WITVs) are abundant, so too are the challenges – with demands for not only larger, more advanced assets, but also impeccable sustainability credentials. How can shipowners get the balance right today, for ongoing success tomorrow?

“I’d argue that there is no more exciting renewable energy segment right now than offshore wind.”

One might expect this kind of ringing endorsement from someone with an obvious passion for their field. However, the words of Jostein Thue, Vessel Type Responsible, Offshore Wind Vessels at ABB Marine & Ports, more than stand up to scrutiny.

With its clean, proven nature, offshore wind power generation is key to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) desire to achieve the ‘Net-Zero 2050’ scenario for the global energy systemi.

“We really are at the verge of a massive wave of growth,” Thue adds, pointing to data from Clarksons Research estimating that the global offshore wind capacity will grow to a forecasted 242GW and 30,000 turbines in 2030, from an installed base of 55.5GW and 11,400 turbines in 2022.

“The opportunities are there for all to see,” Thue smiles, before adding, with a note of caution; “However, there are some complex challenges windfarm construction and support suppliers must surmount to fulfil this potential.”

“And size and sustainability are top of the agenda.”

The sky’s the limit

Starting with the ‘big’ issue, wind turbines are growing, fast.

To keep the levelized cost of producing energy down, and therefore gain an advantage in ever-more competitive bidding rounds, windfarm developers are pushing for bigger, more powerful turbines, allowing for less installations and lower overall costs.

This means turbines for upcoming projects, from 2025 onwards, will boast 15-megawatt (MW) capacity, whereas by the end of the decade 20MW-plus giants could be the new standard.

“That means vessels have to grow too,” Thue explains, “The installation of larger turbines at increasingly remote locations will require high-capacity, more efficient and self-sufficient WTIVs - ships that can carry heavier loads and have higher installation capacities in relation to lifting height and weight. Other units such as cable-layers and windfarm service operation vessels will also have to keep pace with the developments.”

Thue points out that the existing fleet of WTIVs is now reaching the technical limit of its design capabilities, with limitations on deck space and crane capacity meaning vessels are ill-equipped to install larger turbines of 20MW-plus. He forecasts a shortage of installation vessels in the upcoming 2025-2026 timeframe, with costly upgrades to existing assets failing to plug the shortfall.

And then there’s the environmental perspective.

Lifecycle focus

“There’s increased scrutiny of the renewables sector, with growing requirements for green vessels to cater for green energy developments,” Thue explains.

“Sustainability and efficiency will be central to success in an evolving marketplace, so vessel operators must think ahead; investing in future-proof, green technologies, both on newbuilds, and with continual upgrades of existing vessels to extend their operational lifetimes. Nobody wants to be stuck with obsolete assets.”

He continues: “There is, of course, regulatory pressure here, but also commercial imperative. Wind farm developers need to find ways to minimize their environmental footprint over the entire project lifecycle - from manufacture of turbines through to installation, operation and maintenance - to ensure their projects have sustainable integrity. Efficient, sustainable vessel operations are a key piece of the puzzle, so this will be an increasingly key assessment criteria when awarding contracts.”

Sigurd Bjørkås, Global Marketing & Communications Manager for the Energy segment at ABB Marine & Ports, agrees with his colleague, pointing out that the playing field is already shifting in favour of players with vessels defined by low-carbon technology. And that’s not the only advantage.

We really are at the verge of a massive wave of growth.

“Demonstrating leading environmental standards is definitely becoming a competitive differentiator due to demands for emissions accountability,” he states. And although, in some cases, there is a higher initial outlay on a greener, more efficient vessel, it is justified by the fact it will have lower lifecycle costs.”

Furthermore, designing according to environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards unlocks better financing terms, translating to a further, competitive edge in the market.

A win for the environment, and a clear business opportunity.

Seat at the top table

The views of Thue and Bjørkås are borne out by a 2022 study entitled ‘Mapping of market needs and development of offshore wind’ carried out by Danish offshore wind consultancy Green Ducklings. This finds that; “all vessel contractors are designing their newbuilds to high emission standards, well knowing that this is a key technical and commercial competitive parameter.”

It adds, dangling a large carrot for ambitious vessel operators, that; “sustainability has become a qualification parameter” and “those who can demonstrate innovative technology with commercial benefits and explicit, quantifiable measures on ESG performance get a seat at the table with developers.”

A strong incentive, if there ever was one, that green is the way to go here. So, who is already making moves in this respect?

Leading the way

Vessel operator Eneti and marine contractor Van Oord are two examples of ambitious players investing in the next generation of WITVs; vessels tailormade to meet the evolving, and demanding, requirements of a growing renewables sector.

Both companies have ordered ships that are not only designed to install larger and heavier turbines, but also leverage green technology such as hybrid battery power solutions to boost efficiency, cut emissions, and improve safety.

Monaco-based Eneti has ordered a pair of $330 million WTIV newbuilds with advanced power, automation and control systems supplied by ABB. Similarly, Dutch marine contractor Van Oord has started the construction of the technologically advanced offshore wind installation jack-up vessel Boreas, capable of installing up to 20-megawatt turbines. The vessel will feature ABB’s integrated power, automation, and propulsion system to reduce fuel consumption, maintenance costs, and emissions, as well as enhance overall performance. Both Eneti’s and Van Oord’s projects will also feature shore connection capability to enable zero-emission loading of turbines in port.

This is a solution that can really make a difference.

Thue points out that ABBs green technology represents ‘low-hanging fruit’ for owners and operators looking to extend the operating lifetime of vessels and thus their commercial viability in the longer-term, citing for example ABB’s Onboard DC Grid™ system that can easily be adapted to different energy sources as these become available.

The newbuilds ordered by Eneti and Van Oord will also use ABB’s closed-ring and closed-bus solutions for dynamic positioning operations that reduce the risks of power and propulsion loss, as well as improving engine utilization.

“In addition,” Thue comments, “ABB’s energy storage system can reduce running hours while battery power enhances operational flexibility by providing a spinning reserve for back-up power, peak shaving for short-term load variation, and harvesting regenerative power from vessel operations, among other fuel-saving functions.”

“This is a solution that can really make a difference, day-in, day-out, in demanding marine operations.”

As can digital control systems, according to Green Ducklings.

Added control

The company’s study notes that “fully integrated digital vessel control systems can help optimize environmental impacts during operations and help document this to the end clients in project-specific impact reports” for the wind farm lifecycle. These can include smart control and monitoring of engine, propulsion and other systems as well as vessel performance management and navigation, with integrated weather data to optimize route planning, all geared to reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

Here, Bjørkås highlights, as an example, the ABB Ability™ OCTOPUS - Marine Advisory System, which integrates weather forecasting data for wind and wave conditions with the vessel’s positioning system and predicts vessel motion responses.

The future outlook of offshore projects is brighter than it has ever been.

He notes: “The system helps determine the optimal operational window for vessels to carry out installation and maintenance on offshore wind turbines. This is particularly important as wind farms move farther out to sea in ever deeper and more treacherous waters.”

Increased scrutiny

With construction and support vessels seen as one of the major contributors to emissions in this critically important green energy sector, ABB believes their environmental performance will come under ever-increasing scrutiny.

This, Thue stresses, “underscores the need to optimise operations and, eventually, transition away from fossil fuels.”

He concludes: “Business strategies for long-term sustainability are critically important. Offshore wind players must therefore make credible investments in green technology today due to heightening regulatory and commercial pressures. This means vessel owners need to invest in future-proof assets that incorporate systems for emissions reduction and are adaptable for alternative fuels. Investments in state-of-the-art technology now will save money in the long run.”

“The future outlook of offshore projects is brighter than it has ever been. Excitement really is growing.”

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