By 2020, the EU aims to get 20% of its electricity produced by wind energy technologies. That number is well within reach, since wind power's share of total installed capacity has quadrupled in the past 10 years from 2% in 2000 to 9% in 2009, according to the experts brought together in Madrid for the GL Exchange Forum on last week. More than 60 people representing shipyards, ship owners, bank investors, engineering companies, and energy companies heard presentations from, and participated in the lively discussion with, experts at GL and the offshore wind industry who came together to discuss the opportunities and challenges of this burgeoning market.
Most of this wind energy has been produced onshore. But according to Javier Herrador from Navantia, the Spanish shipbuilder, and one of the experts at the GL Forum, now offshore wind is beginning to take a larger share of this market and is poised to become a major growth industry, especially in Europe, as European countries have made substantial investments in renewable energy in order to combat climate change, reach the 20-20-20 targets and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
According to Herrador, although offshore wind power is still in its infancy and offshore installations are more complex and costly to put in place than their onshore cousins, offshore has distinct advantages: no negative visual impact or noise, no geography and obstructions restrictions (buildings, mountains, etc.), no land-use disputes or questions of limited land availability, and higher efficiencies (higher and more constant wind speeds). And because it is an emerging market, there are a lot of opportunities for growth.
As developers will require a greater number of turbine installations per year, the offshore wind industry will need to draw deeply on maritime resources. According to Herrador, the shipbuilding industry can play an important role to improve the competitiveness of offshore wind energy technologies and to enable the exploitation of the offshore resources and deep waters potential.
This is especially true in Spain, says Manuel Moreu of Seaplace, an expert in marine and offshore construction. Although Spain is leading with Germany most of the European effort on wind and solar energy, Spanish involvement in offshore wind "is not occurring at the right pace," he says, especially since offshore wind energy is, after onshore wind energy, the next to reach profitability, "far away from all solar devices." Moreu also noted that the challenges facing the Spanish market, such as deeper water, may turn into a business opportunity for the construction of floating solutions, which may be more competitive for larger units, with lower installation costs.
The nascency of this industry brings up unique challenges for classification societies like GL. Using the terms of maritime classification, is an offshore wind platform a ship, a heavy lifter, a jack up or a passenger vessel? Trick question: the answer is "all of the above."
Discussing the role of a classification society in the offshore wind industry, GL's Teena Tillessen, Deputy Head of Department Project Management, noted that the differences between conventional classification services and today's requirements require experts to navigate the jungle of sometimes contradictory rules and regulations needed to classify a "hybrid concept" such as an offshore wind platform. According to Tillessen, there are many new rules for Offshore Service Vessels, including national standards, IMO regulations, special GL rules and guidelines, and other statutory and industry standards.
In addition, Tillessen says, you have to be able to "read in between the rules": for example between the MODU Code in jacked position vs. SPS Code in floating condition or between the requirements of the Mining Authorities vs. Coastal Flag State Authorities. GL has this expertise due to being an active member in IMO working groups and a proactive partner with close contact to Flag State Administrations.
Speaking on technical requirements for offshore wind farms, Jochen Kunzel, GL Noble Denton's offshore expert discussed industry standards and guidelines, jacking systems and leg strength. He also went through the development stages of an offshore wind farm project, from exploration to erection and installation of wind turbines, platforms and subsea cables, to maintenance and de-commissioning, noting the important technical aspects for each state.
GL coordinates Exchange Forums throughout the year and worldwide on a variety of innovative industry topics.