Planning a wind farm is no easy task. After the site is secured and permitting complete, the wind farm must be designed and turbines selected and then transported for construction. While some developers may source local parts where available, typically many turbine components (think gearboxes, bearings, generators, blades, and others) are ordered from multiple locations. For shipments of that size and complexity, planning and logistics becomes a vital part of project management.
“There are many facets to the wind industry especially at the supply-chain level,” says Jarl Pedersen, Chief Commercial Officer at the Port of Corpus Christi, the fifth largest port in total tonnage in the United States. It provides access to the Gulf of Mexico and the entire U.S. inland waterway system. “We see a lot of global sourcing and receive towers from Asia, blades from Europe, and so on. A port can help facilitate the communication between developers and suppliers, including the transportation and logistics companies.”
Pedersen says that much like planning a wind farm, it is just as important for developers to do their homework when it comes to delivering their assets to site. “One of the logistical challenges with moving today’s wind-related cargo is that components are getting larger and blades longer. Of course, all projects are different but you really have to plan appropriately because time and diligence are key in the wind industry,” he says.
Case in point: the production tax credit. One of the ways developers can qualify for the recently renewed PTC is to meet the 5% safe harbor requirement and purchase wind turbines before the end of 2016. “We have numerous letdown and storage areas because if you can get your components into the U.S. before the end of the year, you’re in the clear even if you have not yet broke ground at your wind site,” says Pedersen. “In other cases, a developer might have a contract with a supplier for a set number of turbines and need to store them for future projects. But all of this takes operational flexibility and planning ahead.”
He says you also have to consider different state regulations and suggests using a logistics company to help with the process. “At Corpus Christi, we are a self-governing body and a sub-division of the state of Texas so, in many ways, we have an advantage of creating many of own rules, but this is probably not the case with all ports.”
For example, if you are thinking ahead for the slow but surely growing offshore wind market, height restrictions may come into play. “Onshore tower sections are transported horizontally, but the offshore concept is to erect turbines vertically and, considering the size of those towers, you have to consider height restrictions during transport,” says Pedersen. Only the inner harbor at Corpus Christ has height restrictions of 128 feet. “But we’re actually getting a bridge that will move this to 205 feet.”
He encourages wind developers or manufacturers to visit the port — or truck, train, or vessel company — to ensure the method of transport (or storage) chosen meets the component size and project schedule. “The movement of large-scale turbine components is not done easily. A lot of people, from site planners, logistics companies to stevedores and others, come together to make it happen.”
Ian Baylis of Seacat Services, an offshore energy support vessel operator in the UK, agrees and says that to meet the growing offshore wind industry, it is important to work together. “In the early days, crew transfer, personnel, ports, and logistics were all distinct and separate areas. However as the offshore wind industry has evolved in the UK, developers are taking a more holistic look at how these services are procured.”
The U.S.’s Rhode Island Fast Ferry has already demonstrated this in action. The company consulted Seacat Services before construction of the country’s first purpose-built Wind Farm Support Vessel, which serviced America’s first offshore wind farm off Block Island, RI.
“There are certainly opportunities to collaborate throughout the supply chain, so it important to develop positive working relationships with complimentary operators,” says Baylis. He says that this will enable the wind industry to streamline its procurement processes. And you never know when you might need that connection to later navigate O&M crew to a wind site for turbine maintenance or repairs.
“By developers, operators, and crew sharing their experiences, tasks, and operations while working on a site, it is possible to promote the best global logistics and offshore wind practices, and create future cost savings for the industry,” says Baylis.
Filed Under: News, Projects