The five turbines installed at Block Island, RI signal the launch of the US offshore wind industry. The next windfarm will be larger and a more serious shakedown cruise. The industry’s newness means uncertainty is everywhere in equipment, ships, ports, and personnel. And almost every discussion brings up concern of the Jones Act, a law from the early part of the last century that requires U.S. flagged ships to carry cargo from port to port in the U.S. How will it impede equipment coming from Europe? And new jobs on vessels will call for certifications – where will they come from?
John Price, global sales director – renewables with UK cable and umbilical supplier JDR Cable Systems, discussed the problems and challenges faced by the nascent U.S. offshore industry and how UK experience can help avoid repeating mistakes made in Europe.
“We can bring vast experience from the UK industry – the know-how to deliver on a large scale. We see the U.S. doing things a little bit differently to what we did in Europe, which is fine. There, we scaled up bit by bit while the US seems to be going from demonstration projects such as Block Island and Fishermen’s Energy, to a large gigawatt windfarm.”
With that ambition, the U.S. will certainly need companies that have the knowledge and ability to deliver on a large scale. “That’s where we can help,” says Price. “We’ve cut our teeth on jobs and equipment to install turbines and lay cables.”
Price notes that there are two elements to an offshore cable array: an offshore substation that collects all power from the turbines, and a transmission line back to a land-based substation and the grid. “I see U.S. projects evolving into a model similar to that used in the UK. The Germans used a slightly different setup. They use a collector hub for all offshore windfarms and one main export cable back to shore.”
One of the next U.S. projects will likely be near Maryland and possibly a one-gigawatt installation. “There, you’re talking several hundred turbines (277, 3.6-MW units or 200, 5-MW units, or larger). In Europe, several turbine manufacturers offer eight-megawatt designs.
Price says he would recommend two things for a one-gigawatt windfarm: consider an installation program divided into two campaigns, and use monopile foundations. A monopile is a single large round steel tube driven into the seafloor. Block Island uses a jacket foundation or four-leg design. Such foundations on large scale have not yet appeared in Europe. Foundations there are dominated by monopiles, a relatively inexpensive technology of rolled steel. The installation knowledge is there for anything up to about 35 to 40 meters’ water depth. “I see no reason why the Maryland project should not use monopiles as opposed to jacket foundations, which are better adapted for deeper water.”
Even the monopiles in Europe are holding turbines up to eight megawatts, although it is a huge piece of steel. The installation process there is well known and well-rehearsed so installation programs can be quicker than with other foundations.
Prices says his message to the U.S. offshore industry is that although it will naturally do things differently, there is a lot of experience in Europe that can expedite projects of the scale this country is planning. Why reinvent the wheel? Consider installation vessels. A variety will be needed. When looking at large-scale U.S. projects, infrastructure such as large installation vessels isn’t necessarily here yet.
“Those vessels may necessarily come from Europe because they do not exist yet in the U.S. That raises some issues around the Jones Act because the turbines and foundations will be built and held at U.S. ports. Vessels big enough to deliver a few hundred foundations would have to come from Europe. Possibly the best way around the Jones Act is to re-flag vessels,” suggests Price.
What else might he recommend for the U.S. industry? “Three things,” says Price. First, consider the contracting strategy. “In Europe and the UK, we’ve had three rounds so far. Round one was led by a leading engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company. This one contractor executed the whole package. Many companies struggled because of that and did not make much money. In fact, some firms went bust off the back of it.”
He says, “Don’t make the mistake of placing one contract with one developer who will then control all the subcontractors. That just didn’t work. It was too big a project although not too different from a large land-based installation.”
In round two, several developers took control and did the opposite. “They multi- contracted every single package, which from the developers’ point of view, scaled up their internal resources to manage those contracts. Again, this did not quite work.”
In the third round of installs, now in progress and the middle ground between the two previous approaches, the developers are controlling the packages but they’re piecing the work together. Cable will be part of the installation package as will the turbines. Maybe the foundations will be part of that package too. They bring large-scale packages together, but not to the extent of a full-package EPC – an even middle ground.
The second big mistake to avoid: not ensuring that you have the right capabilities to deliver. “In earlier projects, 10 to 15 years ago, the right vessels to do the work were not always available. What’s more, their crews didn’t have the right experience or knowledge to execute the work. Having the right knowledge in place and the right capabilities – that’s key,” cautions Price.
Vessel crews will have to be certified for 10 to 20 different tasks. “The certifications are available in Europe. Initially, those people went to offshore construction after having become qualified just the week before. So experience is as important as certifications.”
Another word of caution should the U.S. offshore industry ramp up: “You might start off with the A team and end up with the Z team because the company ran out of qualified people. It was a struggle in the earlier days but the situation in Europe is getting better,” he says.
One installation barge could call for 20 or more different certifications. It is likely that a crew member would be certified for several different jobs.
Who will teach the classes? “Our company is developing a training academy for electrical tasks so we can carry out the determination testing on the connections to the turbines. Then others would do training in, for example, working at height, working offshore, getting officer certifications. Basic offshore safety induction and emergency training (BOSIET) is a requirement in Europe.” The U.S. offshore oil industry requires some BOSIET certifications as well. It’s a certification everyone must have.”
For jack-up barges that execute the main turbine and foundation installations, there are probably half a dozen training schools in the UK alone and more in wider Europe. UK or European companies may establish training schools in the U.S. to service the market.
The third challenge that the U.S. offshore industry deals with is establishing operations maintenance strategies for the projects. “That has been a rapid learning curve in Europe. We had a few isolated projects that we thought we could manage and suddenly turbines are offline. The biggest challenge with offshore projects is getting there. Consider that in Europe some projects are only accessible with helicopters,” cautions Price.
Some North Sea projects in German waters can be 100 km offshore. “That is over the horizon – out of sight. Most projects in UK waters are getting towards being 20 to 30 km offshore. I think the furthest we’re looking at, for the next round of projects, round three, is for Dogger Bank and that’s going to be about 60 km offshore. I don’t know if any of the U.S. projects are anywhere near that far offshore.”
And then there is the weather window to consider.
Price says that JDR has the capability and knowledge to improve U.S. offshore installations: “We lean on that knowledge – UK and European countries can help develop these projects. That’s by far the clearest message.”
Deepwater ONE could be number two
Deepwater ONE is an offshore wind energy area located roughly halfway between Montauk, NY, and Martha’s Vineyard, MA., with the potential for more than 1,000 MW of offshore wind development. Deepwater Wind plans to build multiple phases in this wind energy area to serve Long Island, MA and Rhode Island. A 90 MW South Fork Wind Farm will be the first project constructed in the Deepwater ONE wind energy area. This project won the nation’s first competitive lease auction in 2013 for exclusive rights to develop this 256-square mile site.