Harnessing the power and opportunities of floating offshore wind

By Neil Gordon, Subsea UK

Global Marine Group’s ‘CS Sovereign’ working close to a Pemex offshore wind platform
Global Marine Group’s ‘CS Sovereign’ working close to a Pemex offshore wind platform (photo: Global Marine Group)

The global floating offshore wind (FOW) market is set to grow nearly eight-fold over the next decade, from 28 GW to around 218 GW by 2030. The UK government is aiming to quadruple both fixed and floating wind capacity, from 10 GW today to 40 GW in that timeframe as part of its net-zero carbon emissions goal by mid-century.

With this new technology fast becoming a commercial reality, there is massive global potential for the North Sea subsea sector to exploit.

Subsea UK is working with the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult to garner traditional subsea insight and ingenuity for the creation and innovation of dynamic cable and ancillary systems for floating wind farms of the future.

As part of a recent series of webinars on the novel technology, we invited experts from ORE Catapult, Peritus International, JDR Cable Systems, Balmoral Group and Ocean Winds to share their knowledge and encourage participation in a collaborative project.

The 300-plus virtual audience involved companies from across the energy ecosystem, with nearly three-quarters (71%) already operating or set to begin work in the FOW arena. An online survey revealed two-thirds of participants felt prepared to enter the burgeoning market.

Building trust and traction for dynamic cable innovation
Unlike conventional cables for electrical transmission, a dynamic cable for FOW refers to the constantly changing environment and hydrodynamic impact on the load and motion of the cable. This is further compounded by the induced movements of the floating turbine structure itself. Its survival is therefore critical to the entire system design. There are a number of different types of proprietary dynamic cables that are potentially suitable for floating wind, depending on how that cable is configured.

MDL third-generation Reel Drive System deployed offshore Ghana (photo: Maritime Developments)
MDL third-generation Reel Drive System deployed offshore Ghana (photo: Maritime Developments)

The research and experience in the construction and installation of dynamic cables for FOW is limited. Therefore, it is vital to bring together a community of experts to analyse the risks, overcome the challenges, and develop the technical qualification frameworks as we work towards a lower carbon energy mix.

ORE Catapult’s Floating Offshore Wind Centre of Excellence (FOW CoE) is running a project which aims to understand the technical requirements for UK FOW projects and assess the current status of this novel technology and the supply chain’s ability to deliver these critical components. Part of the initiative will explore the degree of commonality between different sites and understand the type of inter-array cable system configurations (up to 132 kV) which might be used.

Speaking at the webinar, Charlotte Strang-Moran, an electrical engineer at ORE Catapult, urged companies to play their part: “The subsea sector is in a strong position to help deliver on the promise of floating offshore wind. It is key that we act quickly to make the most of the opportunity and reap the benefits for the UK economy.”

As the basis for the study, it will use three generic FOW sites, between 60 and 150 metres of water in varying seabed terrains with different wind speeds and metocean conditions across the duration of its lifetime. The findings will be used to develop a breakdown of predicted requirements to 2050 at a component level of detail, looking at cable size, cable rating, connector type, and seabed restrictions.

Expected to be completed later in the year, the study will undertake a supply chain review to fully understand what the capability of companies working in this sector is at present, and how the dynamic cable market is likely to progress, and where the gaps are in that supply chain based on the results of the analysis.

The lead contractor and delivery partner for the initiative is Peritus International. Operations director, Chas Spradbery explained next steps at the virtual event: “Peritus’ are responsible for the design and analysis of the inter-array cabling systems that will be expected for FOW in UK waters. This includes detailing the cable configuration along with any ancillaries (buoyancy modules etc).”

TechnipFMC envisions a subsea field
TechnipFMC envisions a subsea field (illustration: TechnipFMC)

“Once the system has been established, part of the work is to engage with the supply chain and undertake a state of art review to fully understand what the capability of companies working in this sector is at present, and where the gaps are in that supply chain based on the results of the analysis,” continued Spradbery.

Analysis and testing will take place at the ORE Catapult’s dedicated FOW laboratory facilities in Port of Blyth where input and insight from the subsea sector will galvanise its internationally recognised Centre of Excellence. By bringing together industry leaders, developers and academia, this will work towards:

  • Reducing the levelised cost of energy from floating wind to a commercially manageable rate.
  • Cut back development time for floating offshore wind farms.
  • Create opportunities for the local supply chain.

Powering a floating future
Its widely acknowledged that European companies are pioneering this fast-maturing technology. The continent currently leads three quarters of the 50-plus FOW projects at different stages of development worldwide today and aims to have 100-150 GW by 2050. Hywind Scotland is currently the only operational floating wind farm in the North Sea with five floating turbines with a total capacity of 30 MW.

The 25 MW WindFloat Atlantic floating offshore wind farm is also now fully operational off the Portuguese coast. It is the world’s first semi-submersible floating wind farm and will generate enough energy to supply the equivalent of 60,000 households per year, saving almost 1.1 million tons of CO2, according to its consortium of developers. Tiago Duarte, Head of Floating Wind at Ocean Winds, was previously an installation manager on the project and shared his experiences.

“Floating wind farms require a new interface between the foundation and mooring designer, cable and hardware supplier, and offshore contractor. The allocation of each scope of work and the use of a multi-contract approach requires skills and resources to manage that so each party can contribute their expertise in the best way possible to achieve a global optimised solution.”

Floating offshore wind has the potential to be a massive industry on a global scale and there are very real opportunities for the UK oil and gas subsea sector to grasp in this exciting, emerging market.

The final part in the webinar series, to be held on Tuesday 11 May 2021, will provide guidance on how the sector can engage with developments in mooring and anchoring systems and the broader activities of the ORE Catapult’s FOW Centre of Excellence.

For information on how to register, visit www.subseauk.com.

Subsea UK members can access the recordings of the webinars on the Subsea UK website.

Neil Gordon, chief executive, Subsea UK
Neil Gordon, chief executive, Subsea UK

Neil Gordon was appointed chief executive of Subsea UK in 2011. During this time, he has effectively led the self-sustaining organisation through both its most challenging and most successful periods. He has almost 30 years’ management experience in director and business development roles, combined with over 17 years in the subsea industry. Gordon is currently a Director of OPITO, NSRI and the Offshore Training Foundation, a member of the Oil and Gas Authority – Supply Chain Task Force Group and an industry advisor for the MSc in Subsea Engineering at Aberdeen University.

With 300 members, representing the entire subsea supply chain, Subsea UK is firmly recognised globally as the focal point for the GBP 7.8 billion UK subsea industry – one of the country’s largest industry sectors in terms of economic contribution, with high-growth potential.