The offshore energy boom: more than wind. Domestic offshore wind also promises to generate demand for new, efficiently propelled support vessels.
The U.S. offshore wind farm industry, now in its infancy, is on the verge of a massive growth surge, and the boom will be felt throughout the American maritime industry. The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy reported last year that there is a “robust pipeline of projects to ensure growth in the country’s nascent offshore wind market,” with 28 projects totaling over 23,700 megawatts (MW) of potential capacity currently under development. While these projects are concentrated mostly on the Eastern seaboard, others are also under development in the Great Lakes, the West Coast and Hawaii.
The first to come online was the Block Island field, which is now said to be producing electricity for 17,000 homes. Others will follow soon. In February, New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy, announced plans to bring 3,500 MW of offshore wind capacity online by 2030, and New York is moving to procure at least 800 MW of offshore wind capacity through two solicitations in 2018 and 2019, with a total of 2,400 MW by 2030.
The coastal wind farms and their supporting shoreside infrastructure will be a tremendous boost to the U.S. maritime and port industries. New York has said it will invest $15 million in port infrastructure and training of workers for the new jobs to be generated. A recent study, “U.S. Job Creation in Offshore Wind,” published by the Clean Energy States Alliance, claims that eight gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity, developed along the northeast coast from Maine to Maryland, will create some 40,000 full-time jobs by 2028, growing to 86 GW supporting 160,000 full-time jobs by 2050.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said, “U.S. offshore wind will clearly be an American industry, drawing on the wealth of expertise in the U.S. offshore oil and gas and onshore wind sectors. It will also benefit both of those sectors, boosting an overlapping supply chain and jobs that extend from the East Coast to the central U.S. and Gulf of Mexico.”
Windfall for Support Vessels
U.S. workboat builders, still suffering from the glut of idle OSVs, are eagerly eyeing the emerging market for specialized wind-farm support vessels – all of which will be Jones Act protected – that will be needed to service the offshore wind farms.
For guidance on boat designs and operating experience, they’re looking to Europe, where there are said to be more than 400 wind-farm crew and service vessels currently in operation. To learn more about these vessels, Marine News caught up with Volvo Penta at a recent trade event. Volvo Penta speaks from experience, since the company has a very strong market share as one of the top suppliers of propulsion systems for these specialized craft in the European market.
Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Penta of the Americas, told Marine News, “Offshore wind farms will require a fleet of specialized support vessels, and Volvo Penta is ready to answer the call with our proven IPS technology. We have a great deal of real-world experience in this sector and excellent relationships with naval architects, shipyards and operators. We believe we are well positioned to meet the demand as the North American market opens over the next few years.”
Jens Bering, vice president of marine sales for Volvo Penta of the Americas, spoke to Marine News about the special challenges for builders and operators of wind-farm vessels, which operate under some of the world’s most difficult conditions in the North Sea. They must be able to work 24/7 in high winds and heavy seas delivering crew and materials quickly and safely to the offshore towers without wasting time and fuel. When transiting to and from the wind farms, top speed is an important consideration, since the service technicians are ‘on the clock’ when transiting, and a smooth ride ensures they won’t be seasick when they arrive at the towers. On station, it’s a big challenge for the operator to nose up to the turbine towers and hold position in turbulent waters when transferring technicians and supplies.
Bering said that Volvo Penta’s IPS has been found to be the ideal solution for these vessels. “When compared to standard shaft drives, IPS consistently produces 30-40 percent longer cruising range, 15-20 percent higher top speed, 20-35 percent reduction in fuel consumption, 20-35 percent less CO2 emissions, and 50 percent lower perceived noise levels. The pods also provide higher torque and faster acceleration, as well as higher bollard pull of approximately four tons per pod unit, so it will not lose grip in high seas. In addition, IPS provides safe and predictable boat handling, especially with its standard joystick controls.”
Njord Offshore is a good example. The UK-based company operates a fleet of 15 crew transfer vessels (CTVs) of 21 and 26 meters. Six of its 26 meter CTVs are powered by a Volvo Penta IPS900 Quad installation.
Tom Mehew, director at Njord Offshore, explained the rationale, saying, “We’ve been using Volvo Penta’s IPS900 Quad system in our 26m CTVs for over a year now. We, and our customers, require speed, maneuverability and efficiency combined with high static bollard push. In addition, we also look for reliability and redundancy to maximize the uptime for our clients. The advantages of the IPS have been fully proven. The joystick controls are intuitive, the control response times are fast and accurate, which ultimately makes docking on a boat landing in rough weather easier and safer – we also have a dynamic fender system to reduce the load on the boat landings during these conditions.”
“For boatbuilders, IPS is also easier to install, taking about 50 percent less time than inboard shafts, and is easier to service,” said Bering. He cited a study conducted by BMT Nigel Gee in June 2015, comparing propulsion options for a 26m vessel. IPS scored higher than fixed pitch, controllable pitch, waterjet and linear jet systems, in terms of bollard pull, efficiency, maneuverability and redundancy. The slightly higher initial cost of IPS is more than offset by the dramatic improvement in life-cycle costs, according to the study.
Huibers pointed out that protecting the environment and preserving natural resources are core values for Volvo Penta. “It’s important to all of us at Volvo Penta to be in a position to make a contribution to creating a truly sustainable energy source for the future of our globe.”
(As published in the March 2018 edition of Marine News