On the cusp of a boom, U.S. floating wind gains traction

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offshore floating wind

Credit: Glosten

By Jonathan Hawes

Development of floating offshore wind sites in the U.S. has just begun, but industry pros say that current and planned development bodes well.

The number of planned floating offshore wind projects skyrocketed in 2020, according to the Department of Energy. At least 25 GW should be installed by 2026.

Cusp of a Boom

“Wind farm developers, energy companies and turbine manufacturers are engaged, investing, and looking to the future,” said Bill Hurley, PelaStar business development lead for Glosten. “U.S. developers are focused on bottom-fixed turbines because the relatively shallow continental shelf off the U.S. East Coast provides a lot of suitable seabed. Bottom-fixed foundations are lower cost than floating foundations, installation methods are proven, and risks are well understood. However, the floating wind market is already materializing with interest in the strong winds and deep waters of the Gulf of Maine.”

Maine now has a floating offshore wind program, which eventually will lead to a system providing 1.5 GW of power. California has two designated wind energy areas with a total of 4.6 GW, and seabed lease sales will happen later this year.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s plan for a 3 GW lease of seabed off the Oregon coast in 2024 is also favorable for the sector.

“These areas will be selected out of a 17 GW Oregon potential. These West Coast opportunities will really energize the floating wind market,” Hurley said.

Floating wind tech is improving, with anchors and mooring lines being upgraded for this new segment of offshore wind. Glosten’s PelaStar is working with vertical load anchor technologies including micropiles and helical anchors.

“We’re also adopting synthetic mooring lines made from high-strength-low-creep fibers,” said Hurley. “Our PelaStar tension leg platform design continues to evolve from the early 2009 versions, with current work advancing our design optimization tools and looking at actuated tendons.”

Other new foundation designs are emerging, but the real test will be in how these new designs can support the giant 15 MW turbines and provide low motions, low accelerations, and robustness operating in a rough ocean for 25 years, Hurley noted.

The installation of floating turbines also is an improving technology, which could mean an even greater reliance on vessels for that work.

“There is growing support for floating-to-floating installation as cost comparisons are being conducted comparing offshore heavy-lift to shore-side assembly and tow-out,” Hurley said.

Europe, which leads the world in offshore wind, is rapidly advancing floating wind. Over half of the recent 25 GW ScotWind seabed leases are in deep water and will have floating foundations. France is pursuing deep-water floating wind and is in the process of demonstrating four floating technologies in the Mediterranean and Atlantic.

Vessel Outlook

Because of all of the growth, new vessel-related opportunities are plentiful.

“There will be a need for ‘feeder’ barges to move foundation, tower, and turbine components from logistics ports to installation vessels offshore. Many of the installation vessels will be foreign-flagged, so they will not be permitted to move the components out of a U.S. port,” Hurley said. “Barges are a likely candidate to provide transportation of components, but there are technical challenges with that approach. The primary challenge is how to position the barge offshore, near an installation vessel, securely enough to safely transfer components.”

Crew Transfer Vessels (CTVs) and other purpose-built offshore wind vessels are in demand in offshore wind.

“CTVs will be highly utilized by offshore wind when wind farms enter operation. Offshore construction and support vessels required for offshore wind will have broad applicability to other marine construction and support projects and potentially high availability once wind farm construction is complete,” Hurley said.

Currently on the U.S. East Coast, the need for barges as “feeder” vessels is providing steady business with barge owners. But it’s not likely that such vessels will be used in the U.S. West Coast market for floating wind. 

“Most likely the feeder barge concept being used on the East Coast will not be used for floating offshore wind on the West Coast, because the type of structures are fundamentally different,” said Chris Meisl, senior engineer, ports and harbors, for Advisian.

Crowley Marine Services Inc. is positioning itself for the growth in floating wind on the West Coast.

“Floating wind is a significant part of our strategy for the offshore wind market. We’re trying to find terminal space on the West Coast to [help] build out floating wind,” said Jeff Andreini, vice president New Energy Services at Crowley.

Andreini sees a future need for SOVs (service operation vessels) in floating wind, as well as other vessels. That need could produce others, such as demand for alternative fuels.

“All of these vessels need fuel. … Crowley has developed the first-ever electronic tugboat. And the development of hydrogen is accelerating,” Andreini said. “We’re working together with a [partner] in trying to come up with a solution of alternate energy to be developed through offshore wind.”

The Big Cajun

Alternative, eco-friendly fuel is on everyone’s mind, these days. But if a new technology being developed for offshore wind catches on, the game-changing powering option for the future of offshore wind could come from Louisiana.

Canada-based Waterotor International Corporation is working with Louisiana-based design-engineering firm Herman J. Schellsted & Associates to spread the word about The Big Cajun. It’s a Megarotor system for generating energy.

The Big Cajun is the first hybrid ocean power-generating solution that creates energy from both wind and water, according to Waterotor. Begun by Ferguson in 2011, Waterotor seems poised to be an industry game-changer.

“We’ve spent millions to support a substantial breakthrough,” Ferguson said. “We extract 60% of moving energy from running water at all speeds.”

Schellsted Associates has been working in the energy sector since it became involved in oil and gas work in 1947.

“Lift boats and jack-up boats originated in Louisiana,” Herman Schellsted said. “We’re very familiar with platforms and drilling rigs, and we understand the connections in generating power.”

The 20 MW Big Cajun system is currently in the detailed design phase. It will cost $100 million to build.

“In one year [of using The Big Cajun] we can provide the energy that a wind system does in five years,” Ferguson said, noting that the company is looking for a partnership. “We’re basically at the seedling level. We are only going to be what we are—a small company that initiated something big.”

Schellsted sees the technology as a way to help Americans earn.

“We need to put our people to work. And we truly believe in this,” Shellsted said.

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