One way the U.S. offshore wind industry can optimize project developments and better ensure ROIs is to learn from the experience of others — and that’s precisely what those spearheading the offshore sector in the country are doing. Europe and the UK are decades ahead in offshore wind, so the United States is seeking advice, lessons learned, and success stories from overseas to better ensure a smooth start. What’s clear so far: education and collaboration are the keys.
The Humber, UK is quickly becoming the benchmark location for offshore wind. A large tidal estuary on the east coast of Northern England, the Humber offers a significant hub for wind development and marine experience that essentially spans the full lifecycle of an offshore wind farm. And while the regions is serving the United Kingdom and Europe quite well, those working in the industry are more than willing to share their lessons learned and expertise.
“It’s the envy of the world,” shared Ray Thompson, Head of Business Development for Siemens Gamesa, at an Offshore Wind Connections conference in Hull last year. Ports on the Humber include the Port of Hull, Grimsby, and Immingham. “Ten years ago if you wanted to see how the wind industry worked you went to Bremerhaven in Germany. Now everybody wants to come to Hull to see how it’s done.”
Indeed, the region has paved the way for Ørsted’s Hornsea Project One (the world’s first offshore wind farm to exceed 1 GW) and Project Two, and others such as the 860-MW Triton Knoll that began construction in 2018. In fact, Ørsted currently employs some 350 workers at its rapidly expanding East Coast Hub in Grimsby. Siemens UK also invested heavily in its wind-turbine production facility at the Alexandra Dock in Hull, which is proving invaluable.
A 2017 report released by trade organization, RenewableUK, found that UK-based companies provided nearly 50% of the total content of British offshore wind farms, and that the country was exporting turbine-related components to countries such as China, India, Taiwan and the United States.
However, organizations such as Team Humber Marine Alliance (THMA) are ensuring more than just components are sourced from the UK. “To maximize the huge potential of offshore wind, globally, it takes great collaboration,” says O’Reilly, CEO and Chairman of THMA. The Alliance is a collaborative UK-based membership organization that works to support, educate, and facilitate work within the marine, maritime, and offshore wind sectors.
“Our aim is to bring together governments, industry, academia, and training to ensure proper accreditations and effective supply chains for a successful offshore industry across the world,” adds O’Reilly. In fact, THMA organized the Offshore Wind Connections conference in Hull and was part of a delegation that took part in the New Bedford Offshore Wind Symposium in late 2018 — with a focus on a UK and US collaboration. Those delegates also visited New York and New Jersey to answer questions and offer guidance to local offshore wind leaders, including government.
“There is enormous interest from organizations and at the state level in the United States about how the Humber and other offshore wind hubs in the UK have overcome offshore challenges, such as environmental, educational, and supply chain ones,” says O’Reilly.
Liz Burdock agrees. She is the co-founder and executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind (the Network), a national non-profit organization dedicated to building the U.S. offshore wind supply chain. “We’re likely going to see a stack-up of multiple offshore wind projects ready for construction around 2021, and my concern is that we won’t have an adequate supply-chain capacity or enough businesses to ensure these projects get built in an efficient and timely manner that.”
Burdock visited Europe late last year to meet with and recruit businesses to support U.S. offshore wind efforts. The Network has already established a close connection with THMA. “We certainly don’t want a displacement of local U.S. businesses and I want to stress that,” she adds. “But partnerships are big, particularly when experienced European or UK companies can support and collaborate with our own local businesses here to ensure projects are built to meet capacity, deadlines, and budgets.”
Building a skilled workforce
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates some 43,000-plus new jobs will come from the offshore wind market by 2030. This is good news for the economy and job force, however, adequate training is essential — and particularly in the U.S., which only has one five-turbine offshore wind farm to date.
“Like any new industry, it’s a blessing but there are challenges,” suggests O’Reilly. “The offshore wind industry is a tough one given the stringent environmental and manufacturing standards, and the harsh marine conditions. Typically, at least for wind techs, it’s not a 9-to-5 gig either.”
However, there is diversity in the sector, which opens the market up to many fields, he adds. “For example, when Siemens UK opened its blade manufacturing plant in Hull, nearly 800 production operatives were needed for work and can you believe 22,000 people applied?” These are very different jobs than those of a vessel operators, but just as critical to the offshore supply chain. “Regardless of the task, education and adequate training with a focus on the unique demands are offshore wind are keys.”
To this end, three Massachusetts-based institutions for higher education (Bristol Community College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth) signed up for Connect4Wind in 2018, with the aim of sharing resources and collaborating on the development of curriculum and programs centered on the offshore wind energy sector in the U.S.
“For Bristol Community College, this is one of several partnerships that further solidifies our commitment to offshore wind training and the creation of jobs,” a release about the Connect4Wind stated. Bristol is currently the only facility to offer an associate’s degree program in offshore wind in the U.S. “It also ensures that the region’s higher education institutions will be able to support the regions offshore wind industry with highly skilled workers, innovative training programs, and the shared-use of specialized facilities, well into the future.”
The University of Delaware also recently launched one of the first offshore wind skills training program in the country, with introductory classes beginning in 2019. According to the University, the new Offshore Wind Skills Academy will focus on the skills necessary to build a domestic industry such as permitting, environmental assessments, and local suppliers and vessels.
“The northeast states in the U.S. have committed to 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind to be built in the next 10 years,” said Willett Kempton, a new director of the Offshore Wind Skills Academy, in a press statement. “That is the equivalent of building an entire nuclear power complex each year for the next 10 years.”
Meeting this demand will undoubtedly require significant effort by American companies interested in entering the offshore market and global offshore wind companies learning about operating in the U.S.
“Establishing a new industry takes drive, initiative, and the people to push it forward and support it,” says O’Reilly. “Given our time in the U.S. with the Alliance, I’ve seen that in the country already. I think the U.S. will do well.”
Drawing from experience
One reason O’Reilly predicts a successful offshore wind market is its openness to support. “It’s all about collaboration,” he says. “The Alliance encourages partnerships and joint ventures because often times that’s how a sector overcomes challenges and advances.”
He points to the strict offshore and environmental rules in the UK as one example. “Authorities such as the Marine Management Organization have been willing to support offshore wind developers so they can better understand and meet permitting laws.”
The United States is following similar footsteps. Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) $18.5 million over four years to establish a public-private consortium tasked with developing cost-effective, efficient methods for offshore wind installation, supply chain challenges, and O&M. The consortium already launched its first roadmap aimed at accelerating the deployment of offshore projects.
“The key is finding companies with complementary services and getting them to work together to foster opportunities that may have been lost without that relationship,” says O’Reilly. “It’s a bit like match-making, connecting individuals and organizations, and then seeing what comes from it.”
A new report from the Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Research (POWER-US) also finds that collaboration is one step to advancing the offshore industry in the U.S. The study says that the country could tap into a vast offshore wind energy resource and better steward its marine environment by focusing on large-scale research and fostering public-private partnerships. It notes that public investment in research and strong connections between academia and industry are what helped advance offshore wind energy in Europe.
Additionally, it describes how large-scale public support and the convening of complementary expertise were critical to the success of other large-scale U.S. scientific and engineering initiatives, such as earthquake simulation, oceanography, and materials manufacturing. According to the report: “The emphasis on ‘convergence’ highlights the importance of a collaborative approach, bringing together expertise from a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, atmospheric science, logistics, economics, environmental science, and local communities and the marine industry, including fisheries.”
“Working with the fishing industry is another example of collaboration,” says O’Reilly. “I believe the U.S. is currently in talks with the fishing industry to ensure minimal impact and reinforce the opportunities to work together.”
Indeed, offshore wind developer, Deepwater Wind (acquired by Ørsted in November 2018) adopted a first-of-its-kind procedure to prevent impacts to commercial fishing gear from offshore wind energy activities. The procedure was developed with the commercial fishing industry and accounts for feedback from Atlantic coast fishermen. Deepwater Wind determined that keeping fishermen informed is the key to preventing damage to fishing gear, and has included a process for gear loss and damage claims.
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance has also partnered with Ørsted with the goal of improving communications between the commercial fishing industry and offshore wind developers. It offers an unprecedented opportunity for those who fish commercially to provide direct input to the wind industry on matters of interest to their business. A core component of the partnership will be the creation of a joint industry task force to explore improved approaches to fair project siting, design, and operations. “It’s really common sense,” shares O’Reilly. “Proper communication, collaboration, and education are bound to lead to a more successful outcome — and, in this case, industry.”