First published in Cleantech magazine, July 2008. Copyright Cleantech Investor 2008
Shell WindEnergy’s decision to withdraw from its involvement in the London Array project, the largest planned offshore wind venture in the UK which is expected to provide 1,000MW of power, caused more than a few ripples in the industry. Shell blamed the economics of the project: originally budgeted at £1.5 billion, the estimated cost has now risen above £2 billion due to delays in turbine supply and rising steel prices. Shell’s partners in the London Array, E.ON and DONG Energy, remain committed to the project.
There has been much speculation as to the reasons behind the oil giant’s decision to withdraw. The fact that the London Array is a straightforward project, in the sense that it is located relatively close to shore, in shallow water, may provide a clue: perhaps Shell has decided to await opportunities where it has more added value to offer, given its expertise in offshore environments.
To date, most offshore wind projects have been located in relatively shallow water (depths of less than 50 metres) on monopiles or tripods. For deeper water, floating platforms – similar to those developed for the oil industry – are likely to prove the most appropriate solutions. According to naval architect, Christopher D. Barry, most of the concepts developed for oil exploration “….in the late 80s, when the price of oil fell dramatically and the (oil) industry developed a number of options to exploit small oil fields in deep water…. (are) … even more applicable to wind power”. Barry points out that because the payload weight of a wind turbine is not as high as an oil platform, and does not vary so much, “…many of the concepts developed for offshore oil can be simplified”.
Marine Innovation and Technology has adapted its MiniFloat™ technology, originally designed for the oil industry, to support large wind turbines (units of up to 5MW). The MiniFloat™ technology, which can be used in water depths of more than 50 metres, was recently licensed to Principle Power Inc,, for exclusive worldwide deployment. Principle Power was founded by Alla Weinstein, the former Honeywell engineer who was behind the development of the AquaBuOY wave energy technology (which was sold to Finavera). US based Principle Power aims to build, own and operate energy assets in offshore wind, solar and hydro. It recently raised $2.3 million through a convertible note offering to a group of international investors.
Norwegian oil company, StatoilHydro, recently confirmed that it will undertake a pilot research project involving the installation of a floating wind turbine. The project will receive investment of NOK400 million (£40 million) from StatoilHydro as well as funding from the Norwegian Government owned renewable energy company, Enova. It is planned to undertake research and development into StatoilHydro’s Hywind turbine concept. Hywind uses new technology, developed in conjunction with SINTEF, the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia, to control the wind power during energy production. The actual windmill will be built by Siemens; the floating element will be built by Technip, which will also be responsible for the offshore installation. The floating element, which will be fastened to the seabed by three anchor piles, will extend 100 metres beneath the surface. The windmill can be placed in water as deep as 700 metres.
In the UK, SeaEnergy Renewables Limited is deploying a team with experience of offshore project development in the oil and gas industry to roll out a series of owned and operated offshore wind farms around the world. SeaEnergy Renewables was created by Joel Staadecker and Steve Remp: Remp is Chairman of Ramco Energy, an oil and gas company listed on AIM which is supporting the SeaEnergy concept. As Remp comments, Ramco will contribute “some 30 years’ experience in offshore contracting and operations as well as an important history and expertise in consortia building and corporate and project finance”. Allan MacAskill, SeaEnergy Business Development Director, points out that Ramco’s experience in offshore oil and gas developments is “exactly what is needed to successfully tackle the size and scope of large-scale offshore wind farm developments – we’ve been dealing with these critical, complex and very high-cost logistical and operational challenges – involving heavy lifts, large-scale subsea structures, and requirements for long service lives – throughout our careers”.
The SeaEnergy team recently completed the Beatrice Wind Farm development for Talisman Energy and Scottish and Southern Energy. Beatrice, part of the DOWNWIND demonstration project which received financing from the EU, marked the first deployment of a wind turbine in deep water (45 metres) and the largest wind turbine (5MW) ever deployed offshore.
Blue H Technologies, headquartered in the Netherlands, has developed a solution for offshore wind by adapting submerged tension-legged platforms originally produced by the oil industry. Blue H Technologies’ Submerged Deepwater Platform (SDP) technology was invented by Martin Jakubowski. The company launched a large scale prototype SDP last year, which is anchored in 108 metre waters off the coast of Southern Italy. Blue H Skysaver Srl is developing the first Blue H offshore wind farm off the coast of Puglia. It plans to build a 90MW wind energy park in the area, in water depths of between 100 and 120 metres.
With respect to the challenge of bringing onshore the power from offshore wind turbines, Barry points out that the technology used for flexible oil hoses may be used for power cable design – although adaptation to account for high current and voltage requirements will be required.
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