Growth of offshore wind depends on affordable, reliable support infrastructure

Growth of offshore wind depends on affordable, reliable support infrastructure

The expansion of offshore wind power requires efficient, effective solutions for the installation and service operation vessels that are supporting this growing industry.

Text: Alexander Farnsworth Photo: 123RF

As the world’s energy sector moves away from fossil fuels and towards the use of renewable sources, the wind energy market is poised to play an ever more important role in electricity generation. The size of the global wind power market grew by 35% from 2010-2018, and countries around the world are increasing investment in the segment – particularly in offshore wind farms. 

Research from GlobalData shows that the share of offshore wind power generation in the total wind power segment could double by 2030. With the number of offshore wind installations set to increase, the market for building and supporting offshore windfarms is likewise poised for expansion.

Offshore wind farms can play a leading role in meeting renewable energy and carbon emission targets and improving energy security for the future.

“The focus for us is to reduce emissions and grow the lifecycle reliability of our products and services on both retrofits and new builds,” says Cato Esperø, Sales Director, Norway, Wärtsilä Marine Business. Esperø says that Wärtsilä is deeply engaged in both Offshore Support Vessels (OSVs) for oil and gas, as well as the large installation vessels used to construct offshore wind projects and the Service Operations Vessels (SOVs) to supply and maintain offshore wind farm projects. 

Prioritising efficiency and effectiveness

While offshore wind farms offer huge potential, they are also extremely complex operations that require substantial investment. However, subsidies for them are disappearing in many parts of the world. With the pressure on to build cheaper and faster, owners are looking for ways to reduce costs while still having an eye on a zero-emissions future. 

Wärtsilä is uniquely positioned to play a key role in this emerging market because it is already a leading designer of the service operation vessels used primarily to service offshore platforms. Wärtsilä designs take into consideration the whole vessel and can be customised to any specifications and requirements. 

“Customers are forever looking at minimising costs and maximising profits, and that’s where we can help,” says Esperø. “What we can provide is a deep dive into a ship’s profile, how it operates, and calculate the most optimal package and the equipment needed.”

Service operation vessels for wind farms serve a wide range of purposes and must be flexible in their capabilities. In addition to transporting crew members and service technicians and housing them sometimes for weeks at a time, the vessels also serve as workshops for repairing machinery and cargo ships for moving new equipment. Flexible fuel solutions and route optimisation technology are key to making sure these vessels run efficiently while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We bring to the table a whole panoply of expertise when it comes to flexible fuel strategies, ship design, propulsion, automation, navigational strategies, dynamic positioning, integration with other systems, and offer it all as one package, either as a retrofit or a newbuild,” says Blake Jackson, Sales Manager for Wärtsilä Marine Business who focuses on the US offshore wind farm market. 

With its highly efficient design package including engines, exhaust systems, and hybrid propulsion technology, Wärtsilä takes the risk out of the design, building and operation phases of a project. By offering a flexible solution, owners and operators are able to safeguard themselves from current and future trends, mostly the use of multiple fuels to comply with governing regulations to meet IMO 2030 and 2050 emission targets. Having a system onboard that can be easily adapted to run on fuels available now but with the capability to easily switch to synthetic fuels when they become available helps future-proof the vessel and significantly reduce both CAPEX and OPEX over the vessel’s lifecycle. Wärtsilä’s dual-fuel engines provide this future-proof possibility for new builds. Combined with our state-of-the-art propulsion and thruster systems, it also helps increase fuel efficiency, cutting both costs and emissions.

Wärtsilä also focuses on voyage efficiency with its route optimisation and dynamic positioning solutions. Wärtsilä is a market leader in advanced dynamic positioning technology, allowing vessels to optimise their time at sea while reducing fuel costs. This technology is especially important for SOVs, which need to maintain stability while supplying wind farms in difficult-to-reach and often hazardous locations.

Wärtsilä’s technologically sophisticated platforms are also beneficial from a lifecycle perspective. Advanced monitoring of equipment performance data allows anomalies to be identified and fixed before they cause a disruption in service. Systems data also helps keep maintenance routines on track to meet performance targets, maximising the operability of SOVs as well as a range of other offshore wind ships that fit into the solution scope. Wärtsilä’s lifecycle solutions for installation and service vessels include end-to-end local servicing capabilities in Europe and Asia, on-time delivery, condition-based monitoring, spare parts, and both safety and efficiency improvements. 

Retrofits from a reliable supplier

There is also potential in the OSV market. Thanks to lower oil prices and excess capacity, many OSVs have been taken out of service. There are currently some 200 OSVs not being used, and this overcapacity is expected to grow further as energy sources transition to renewables. According to Wärtsilä, these vessels could be converted or retrofitted to serve the wind farm industry. Transforming these existing ships into service vessels for offshore wind farm installations is a natural evolution of Wärtsilä’s offering. 

Wärtsilä has an extensive reference list for rebuilds of offshore vessels including OSVs, SOVs, complex Offshore Construction Vessels, the world’s most advanced LNG powered ships, and low-cost anchor handling tug supply (AHTS) Vessels. 

In 2016, Dutch ship owner C-Bed contracted Wärtsilä Ship Design to supply the design for rebuilding its Seismic Survey Vessel, the Viking II, for use as a 125-bed hotel vessel, which is now used to accommodate and transfer service personnel working on offshore wind farms. 

In another instance, the Vestland Cygnus, a Platform Supply Vessel (PSV) owned by Norway-based Norside AS, was re-designed by Wärtsilä Ship Design and retrofitted with complete electric propulsion system based on the Wärtsilä Low Loss concept with four Wärtsilä 20 engines, as well as an integrated automation system. The re-design included several new features including a 100-ton offshore crane with a range of 40 metres and a new footpath system for transferring personnel to offshore fixtures in addition to an accommodation module for 112 people.

“We foresee a lot of growth opportunities in the offshore wind farm market in part because the needs of the supply ship operators and owners are the same as ours which is simply to reduce emissions through better fuel consumption and increase reliability across the board,” Esperø concludes.