Irish offshore wind ports: Infrastructure and the future

Maurice Kerr, Andrija Krivokapic, Casper Holmgaard Jensen, COWI

Overview of offshore wind facilities at Belfast Harbour
Overview of offshore wind facilities at Belfast Harbour (photo: Belfast Harbour)

This article provides a high-level overview of Ireland’s offshore wind projects and industry, outlines the key roles of ports as well as key attributes and infrastructure requirements with respect to supporting offshore wind developments, reviews the general suitability of Irish Port, and outlines potential next steps for ports with regards to supporting the offshore wind (OW) industries 2030 targets.

The first part of this article provides a high-level overview of Ireland’s offshore wind projects and industry, outlines the key roles of ports as well as key attributes and infrastructure requirements with respect to supporting offshore wind developments.

The article’s second part reviews the general suitability of Irish Ports and outlines potential next steps for ports with regards to supporting the offshore wind industries 2030 targets.

Irish Offshore Wind Farm Port Infrastructure
With the immediate focus of most offshore wind farms centring on the East and South East coasts, Port of Cork, Port of Waterford, Rosslare Europort, Dublin Port, Drogheda Port and Belfast Harbour might be considered well positioned to support proposed developments in the short-term. Future developments along the West coast may in time create opportunities for further ports to support offshore wind such as Shannon Foynes Port, Castletown Bere and Killybegs.

However, each of these ports host various existing operations which limit capacity for OW activities and apart from Belfast Harbour are considered to have few berths suitable for servicing the offshore wind industry and are generally constrained by limited storage capacity. Considering Belfast Harbour’s location, it is well suited to support developments off the East coast, though could be challenged by demand to support several developments simultaneously as may be required to achieve the required pace of installation and is located relatively far from proposed developments in the lower Southeast and Celtic Sea.

Indicative large diameter mono-pile (photo: COWI)
Indicative large diameter mono-pile (photo: COWI)

In the case of Arklow Bank Wind Park Phase 1, Rosslare Europort was used to support construction, with components being shipped to and partly assembled in the port area before being transported and installed on site. However, the scale of both windfarms and components has increased significantly from 2003 and are now of a size that is likely to pose a challenge in terms of quay suitability, handling and storage space to most of Ireland’s existing ports. For instance, the seven Arklow Bank Phase 1 3-MW turbines weighed approximately 290 tonnes, have a height of approximately 73.5 metres and a blade length of approximately 51 metres, while it is anticipated that the 62 approximately 8 MW turbines planned for the adjacent Arklow Wind Park Phase 2 will weigh in the order of 500 tonnes, be installed at heights of up to 95 metres and can have a blade length in excess of 85 metres. The upper range of currently available turbines which may be considered for other sites around the coast are typically in the order of 10-12 MW, weighting approximately 650 tonnes, are installed at heights of up to 110 metres and can have a blade length more than 100 metres. Larger turbines may also be considered in some locations.

In 2018 the Irish Maritime Development Office published “A Review of Irish Ports Offshore Renewable Energy Services” (IPORES, 2018) which presents a summary of the capabilities of Irish ports to support the offshore renewable area. The review concludes existing ports in the Republic of Ireland have several significant limitations to supporting offshore wind development including the availability of space and existing operations. The review also highlighted that Belfast Harbour has established a dedicated terminal to service offshore wind projects as well as outlining several future development opportunities potentially exist at Port of Cork, Dublin Port, Rossaveal Harbour, Arklow and Galway Harbour [1].

A high-level ports readiness assessment of Irish Ports (Republic) is presented in The Carbon Trust’s report “Harnessing our Potential, Investment and Jobs in Ireland’s Offshore Wind Industry” (March 2020).

The assessment also concludes that the availability of space, unfavourable physical characteristics in many cases and in some cases inadequate handling equipment poses a significant limitation. However, it is outlined that with investment, Port of Cork and Waterford Port could accommodate staging and potentially manufacturing [2].

The recently published Policy Statement on the facilitation of Offshore Renewable Energy by Commercial Ports in Ireland elects a multi-port approach for servicing the offshore wind industry to reduce risks associated with focusing on a single port. Reflecting on installed offshore wind targets, the Policy Statement outlines that a minimum of two large-scale facilities will be required from 2025 to support developments and multiple smaller ports will be need for operation and maintenance activities [3].

Preassembly of tower on floating offshore wind platform (photo: The Port of Grenaa)
Preassembly of tower on floating offshore wind platform (photo: The Port of Grenaa)

There are several potential future port developments which are currently being explored, many with a view to servicing the installation stage of offshore wind developments or could be adapted for this purpose. These include:

  • The ESB’s repurposing of Moneypoint Power Station.
  • An expansion of Shannon Foynes Port.
  • Development of a new port at Bremore by Drogheda Port Company in partnership with Ronan Group Real Estate.
  • Further OW terminal facilities (D3 development) in Belfast Harbour.
  • The deep-water quay development at Rossaveal Harbour.
  • Port of Galway’s proposed redevelopment.
  • The redevelopment of Cork Docklands by Doyle Shipping Group.
  • Expansion of Rosslare Europort as well as Dutch logistics company XELLZ’s planned offshore wind supply base adjacent to the port.
  • A renewable energy construction facility at Greenore Port proposed Doyle Shipping Group.

Recent large-scale port projects in Ireland such as Port of Cork’s Ringaskiddy Container Terminal and Dublin Port’s Ocean Pier Berth 35 Redevelopment have required a duration of five years from grant of planning to commencement of operations. Albeit both projects were delayed in part by unforeseen circumstances, an aspiration for two new large-scale facilities by 2025 is nevertheless considered ambitious and would place port developments to support offshore wind firmly on the critical path to facilitating offshore wind construction.

Potential Next Steps for Irish Ports
As several Irish ports are in the process of exploring how they can service the offshore wind industry, the route forward for individual ports will vary. However, a list of potential next steps for consideration by ports (as well as other supply chain stakeholders) to facilitate the technical assessments of port suitability for supporting the industry and develop plans for future developments is provided below:

  • In conjunction with developer consultations, assess in detail the suitability of existing and planned port infrastructure and general port attributes with respect to supporting Bottom-Fixed and/or floating development requirements (i.e., planning, manufacturing, procurement, installation, operational, maintenance and decommissioning phases). As the industry is rapidly evolving, it is possible if not likely that previous assessments undertaken in recent years are no longer valid with respect to state-of-the-art development requirements. A focus of the review should also be to identify inadequacies which could be considered for upgrades or addressed through future port development.
  • Review the feasibility of upgrading, expanding or repurposing existing facilities with a view to servicing some or all offshore wind development construction and operational/maintenance phases. The review could also consider spatial constraints and also assess the feasibility of expanding the port area on a temporary or permanent basis. The upgrade of existing facilities, depending on the scale and nature, is likely to offer a faster route to developing operational support facilities than greenfield development.
  • Where upgrades, expansions or repurposing is identified as an appropriate option, consideration should be afforded towards developing multi-purpose facilities to maximise the potential use of new port facilities with respect to support activities within the offshore renewable energy sector, such as tidal and wave energy developments, as well as expanding existing port functions. A multi-purpose approach that is compatible with other cargo operations will increase the value and sustainability of new port facilities and avoid “boom and bust” development cycle.
  • Within a wider review of how a port might support offshore wind developments, consider the installation of temporary facilities and/or the long-term deployment of marine working platforms (such as flat top or jack-up barges) as a means by which existing waterfront facilities can be quickly expanded (albeit of limited extent) to support specific construction phases.
  • Assess existing operations at ports with a view to determining whether altering existing operations may afford an opportunity for ports to cater for some support activities and capacity to service the offshore wind industry. Accommodating support activities alongside altered existing operations could be an efficient and effective solution for smaller scale phased developments.
  • Assist with building an appropriate supply chain at the port. Offshore wind related activities draw on an entire ecosystem of associated manufacture, logistic, cranage, vessel support and other businesses. Attracting and growing complementary services at the port helps in sustained activity and enables new opportunities.
  • Close collaboration with developers, statutory authorities, existing operators and all other relevant stakeholders (including other ports, consultants, contractors and supply chain parties) with regards to taking forward viable upgrades and port developments through to the planning and design stages, and beyond in an expedient manner.
Upgraded port facilities at Bladt Industries at the Port of Aalborg, Denmark – preassembly and load-out of transition pieces (photo: Bladt Industries)
Upgraded port facilities at Bladt Industries at the Port of Aalborg, Denmark – preassembly and load-out of transition pieces (photo: Bladt Industries)

Commercial viability is also of critical importance and potential upgrades, expansions and repurposing should be carefully assessed. At an EU level, funding mechanisms are in place to support energy and transport infrastructure development, such as the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency’s “Connecting Europe Facility”. Additionally, financing opportunities could potentially arise in future through the European Investment Bank, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, Green Funds or other sources. However, to achieve the accelerated pace required by the industry to support offshore wind developments from 2025, the funding of initial studies, investigations and planning/design work may need to be invested directly by individual ports, developers, and other supply chain parties. Commercial support from government at a local or national level could also be beneficial towards achieving targets.

Conclusion
Ports play an integral role in offshore windfarm development, however, most of Ireland’s ports (particularly those in the Republic of Ireland) are currently considered as not well suited to service the offshore wind industry. Recent legislative advancements and the setting out of a potential roadmap to achieve 2030 renewable electricity generation targets will no doubt accelerate the pace of offshore windfarm project development in Irish waters.

The establishment of adequate port facilities is on the critical path to facilitating unimpeded offshore wind development. Without adequate port facilities, an opportunity to develop a robust and indigenous supply chain for the offshore wind industry could be lost to overseas ports. As such, ports, developers, and the Irish government will need to act quickly to identify, plan, design and implement port upgrades to avoid missing the boat.

Read part one – Irish Offshore Wind Ports: Role in development.

References

[1] Irish Maritime Development Office (2018), IPORES 2018 A Review of Irish Ports Offshore Renewable Energy Services, accessible at https://oar.marine.ie/handle/10793/1493.

[2] Carbon Trust (2020), Harnessing our potential investment and jobs in Irelands offshore wind industry, published in March 2020, accessible at https://www.carbontrust.com/resources/harnessing-our-potential-investment-and-jobs-in-irelands-offshore-wind-industry.

[3] Department of Transport (2013), National Ports Policy, last published on 08 July 2019, accessible at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/276d66-national-port-policy-2013/.

Authors
Maurice Kerr, B.Eng (hon) MSc C.Eng. MIEI MICE, Associate (Maritime) with COWI’s Energy Practice (MUKE@cowi.com).

Andrija Krivokapic, MSc, Head of Section of COWI’s Terminals Team (ADKV@cowi.com).

Casper Holmgaard Jensen, MSc, at COWI within the port construction field (CAJE@cowi.com).

COWI is an international consulting group, specialising in engineering, environmental science, and economics. Having assisted private and public clients with the review and assessment of port facilities to support offshore wind developments in countries including Denmark, Norway, United States, Japan, Korea, Turkey and Greece as well as working closely with offshore wind farm developers, COWI has amassed a wealth of experience in the offshore wind ports area. As an international leader in the renewable energy and transportation engineering sectors, COWI is also assisting clients with the achievement of development, efficiency, sustainability, and environmental goals in the Port of Oslo, Copenhagen Malmo Port, Port of Frederikshavn, Port of Skagen, and Port of Esbjerg to name a few. COWI has also been appointed as owner’s engineer to develop the world’s first energy island in the Danish North Sea.