The cost of offshore wind is sinking like a stone, and the mammoth global hauling firm Mammoet intends to give it a push along the way. Mammoet is on the hunt for new equipment that smooths out some of the wrinkles that arise when placing turbines out at sea. The firm just capped off its fifth annual innovation challenge, and the results could make a crucial difference as the whole maritime industry struggles with a labor shortage.
Offshore Wind Needs Workers
The global labor shortage is spread unevenly among various industries, and the maritime sector is facing an especially gloomy outlook that predates the pandemic.
That means a double whammy for offshore wind development, which requires crews to mind the ship at sea in addition to skilled workers who tend to the installation end of things.
The sea not being flat, keeping those offshore wind construction vessels steady during delicate parts of the operation is a chore all by itself. Stormy weather and high seas can set the construction schedule back on its heels while the labor costs pile up, especially in the winter months.
The Seaqualize Solution
The US Department of Energy is among those seeking labor-saving solutions for harvesting renewable energy from the sea, and stakeholders in offshore industries have also been looking for new approaches.
That brings us to the latest innovation challenge from Mammoet, in which the firm Seaqualize won the top prize for its high tech Delta lifting crane technology.
“The Seaqualize Delta turns any standard heavy lifting crane into a high-performance active heave-compensated crane, up to a significant wave height,” explains Mammoet. “This allows operations such as floating transition piece installations, feeder barge lifts of delicate components such as turbine nacelles, and even transfers from feeder barge to floating heavy lift vessel to take place more reliably.”
“All applications of our technology are found at the intersection of mechatronics, hydraulics, pneumatics and control technology,” Seaqualize notes.
Mammoet expects the new technology to increase at-work time at sea by more than 80% during the winter season. The new gear could help cut the cost of maintenance and repair work, too.
Mammoet also notes that the Delta system virtually eliminates accidental lift-offs or re-hits, which is a plus for worker safety and will also contribute to lower costs.
Offshore Wind Hearts Green Hydrogen
Of course, no mention of offshore wind is complete without a look into the fast-growing market for green hydrogen. Developers are already beginning to eyeball offshore wind farms as ideal locations for electrolyzer systems, which push hydrogen gas out of water by applying an electrical current.
That means more work and more time at sea for the maritime industry, and more operations in which new heave-compensating lift technology like the Delta system will help keep costs down.
In addition to green hydrogen, offshore wind farms are beginning to serve as co-locators for wave energy harvesting devices and floating solar arrays, which could also mean more opportunities for Seaqualize to market its high tech lift.
What’s Up With Dirigibles?
As the winner of the competition, Seaqualize will collaborate with Mammoet on next steps. The judging panel also included the lifting firm Conbit along with the offshore wind A-listers Shell and Siemens Gamesa, so keep an eye out for developments among those companies as well.
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the judges tapped the firm SkyLifter as runner-up, which appears to put the stamp of approval on lighter-than-air technology for heavy lifting.
As described by Mammoet, SkyLifter’s solar electric “air crane” reaches next-level performance for airborne lifting technology.
“SkyLifter is a solar electric air crane that can vertically lift payloads beyond the technical limits of the largest helicopters,” Mammoet enthuses. “Comprising a lenticular aerostat and an underslung pod, it is a lighter than air vessel that can remain in a geo-stationary position with minimal energy expenditure.”
“As it floats, SkyLifter naturally removes height barriers currently in place for turbine maintenance, due to the maximum reach of available crane vessels. Capable of lifting up to 250t, it can perform maintenance of nacelle components and even blades, over a 2,000km range,” they add.
Dirigibles seem to be making news of late. The California startup H2 Clipper is eyeballing lighter-than-air technology for transporting green hydrogen and other cargo from place to place without the usual infrastructure or equipment. That may seem a bit far-out, but the company has just signed an R&D agreement with the Foundation for the Development of New Hydrogen Technologies in Aragon, Spain, so keep an eye out for that, too.
Offshore Wind Falls Off Cliff
As for where the cost of offshore wind power is heading, our friends over at Wood Mackenzie just released a new report that suggests things are just getting started.
“Cumulative global capex spend in the offshore wind sector is expected to hit US$1 trillion by 2031,” Wood Mackenzie explains. “The technology is proven, and investors have confidence in it.”
“By 2030, Wood Mackenzie expects 24 countries to have large-scale offshore wind farms, up from nine today. Total installed capacity will reach 330 gigawatts (GW), up from 34 GW in 2020,” they add.
The company’s head of Offshore Wind Research, Soeren Lassen, notes that last year’s pipeline of proposed projects exceeded their previous forecast by an impressive 66%, so perhaps 330 gigawatts is an underestimate.
The new report also lays out Wood Mackenzie’s revised framework for offshore wind strategies. Cost is still the central element but four other factors will grow in importance, according to their analysis. Those are:
Local content: Local content is the value of a project can bring to a local, regional or national economy. Wood Mackenzie estimates that almost 80% of capacity connected this decade will be influenced by local content policies.
systems integration: Systems integration involves combining offshore wind projects with other technologies and capabilities that help decarbonise and produce greater value from the offshore wind project [they mean green hydrogen and other add-ons as well as onshore interconnections].
Ecological mitigation: This refers to maximizing the use of the sea while minimising environmental impact. Some examples include mitigating environmental damage during installation, enabling coexistence with marine activities such as fishing, and maximizing gigawatt hours (GWh) of production within a specified area.
Sustainability: Sustainability will take two forms in offshore wind – reducing the lifecycle emissions of offshore wind projects and recyclability.
Wood Mackenzie notes that these four factors weigh differently in various regions, with cost and local content holding most of the cards here in the US.
That could finally set the remaining US offshore wallflowers in motion. The Atlantic coast state of Delaware, for example, was put off by a 2018 cost estimate, but prices for offshore wind have dropped by half since then and the need for state subsides has all but vanished, prompting a second look from policy makers.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: New Delta lift for offshore wind turbine construction courtesy of Seaqualize.
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