Wind turbines for offshore wind parks are growing so fast in size and especially height that bottlenecks will arise if there are not enough wind turbine installation vessels (WTIVs) capable of handling them. This warning was released at the beginning of this month by the Norwegian energy research and business intelligence company Rystad Energy.

In every issue of SWZ|Maritime, SWZ|Maritime’s editor-in-chief Antoon Oosting writes an opinion piece under the heading “Markets” about the maritime industry or a particular sector within it. In the February 2022 issue, he discusses the booming offshore wind industry and the giants needed to install the ever bigger turbines.

The Oslo based company is a world-leading analysis company for the offshore oil and gas industry and more and more also for the offshore renewables industry. The research of Rystad Energy shows that offshore wind turbines are growing in size as technology advances and demand for renewable energy soars. Yet, installing them could cause a headache for operators as demand will outpace the supply of capable vessels by 2024.

According to Rystad Energy, operators will have to invest in new vessels or upgrade existing ones to be able to install the super-sized turbines that are expected to become the norm by the end of the decade. Otherwise, the pace of offshore wind installations could slow down.

According to another market researcher, IHS Markit, last year, there were sixteen wind turbine installation vessels with three to be delivered in 2022 and another three in 2023. 2024 will see the delivery of two such vessels followed by another one in 2026.

Wind turbines globally, excluding China, have seen a growth spurt in recent years, rising from an average of 3 megawatts (MW) in 2010 to 6.5 MW today, with the largest in operation clocking in at 10 MW. Turbines larger than 8 MW accounted for just three per cent of global installations between 2010 and 2021, but Rystad has forecasted that that percentage will surge to 53 per cent by 2030. The two latest offshore wind farms in development off the Dutch coast will get turbines of 11 MW.

The wind parks planned still further away from the coast, to be developed from 2023, will probably see even bigger turbines.

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Demand will rocket

As the energy transition accelerates, demand for offshore wind turbine installation vessels worldwide, excluding China, will rocket from eleven vessel years in 2021 to almost 79 vessel years by 2030. The need for installation vessels for turbines larger than 9 MW, which was nonexistent in 2019, will grow significantly by the end of the decade and reach 62 vessel years in 2030, Rystad Energy predicts.

‘When turbines were smaller, installation could be handled by the first-generation fleet of offshore wind vessels or converted jack-ups from the oil and gas industry. However, as operators continue to favour larger turbines, a new generation of purpose-built vessels is required to meet demand,’ says Martin Lysne, Rystad Energy’s rigs and vessels analyst.

Unable to install new and larger turbines, the first-generation installation fleet has now transitioned into maintenance and repair services for installed turbines, while operators have upgraded other vessels’ cranes in order to remain competitive in the installation market.

Dutch offshore contractor Van Oord has experienced first-hand how fast developments can go. When the company’s first wind installation vessel Aeolus was delivered in 2014, the crane soon proved to be too small. In 2016, a bigger crane was ordered and in 2018 the original 900-tonne crane was replaced by one that can handle up to 1600 tonnes.

Picture by Hans de Wilde/SWZ|Maritime February 2022.

First generation vessels

Van Oord also took over two first-generation wind installation vessels from financially ailing shipowner Vroon, the MPI Resolution and MPI Adventure, that are also deployed for the construction and maintenance of offshore wind parks, but are not yet updated with bigger cranes. The third MPI ship, the MPI Discovery, went to Jan De Nul.

Boskalis operates the Bokalift 1 that features a 3000-tonne lifting capacity. DEME now has in operation the Orion, which can handle up to 5000 tonnes after the first Liebherr crane collapsed while being installed in Rostock. The two new crane vessels of Jan De Nul will have cranes with capacities of 3000 and 5000 tonnes respectively.

Global developments

In Europe, Asia (excluding China) and the emerging US market, turbine sizes are ramping up towards 2025 and beyond. Europe’s first commercial 10 MW turbine was installed in December 2021 at Scotland’s Seagreen offshore wind farm by Cadeler’s Wind Osprey (1600 tonnes). A total of 114 turbines are lined up for the 1.1 GW North Sea project.

At the Vineyard Wind development in the US, 13 MW turbines will be installed by DEME’s Sea Installer after its crane upgrade. Jan De Nul’s newbuild Voltaire (5000 tonnes) will debut at the Dogger Bank wind farm in the UK, installing 13 MW turbines. Cadeler has been contracted to install 14 MW turbines at the Sofia wind farm in the UK, and 14 MW turbines will also be installed at the Hai Long development in Taiwan.

In addition, 15 MW turbines will be installed at the EnBW He Dreiht project in Germany, while many US developments, such as Coastal Virginia and Empire Wind, are also looking to install 15 MW turbines.

Despite installing one 10 MW turbine at the Xinghua Bay wind farm last year, China is expected to lag behind Europe in average turbine size up to 2030. Although China will install some larger turbines in the coming years, most installations are expected to measure between 6 and 8 MW.

A lot of crane upgrades

Larger turbine installations require stronger cranes on installation vessels to lift heavier materials higher, and only a handful of purpose-built vessels available worldwide can install 10 MW+ turbines. As a result, many vessels have moved from Europe to China, where lower crane capacity vessels are still in high demand. Jan De Nul’s Taillevent was sold to China last year, and DEME’s Apollo has also recently been renamed and reflagged to work in the Chinese market.

Excluding China, demand for 12 MW+ capable installation vessels is set to increase rapidly, taking a larger share of overall demand.

Out of the current fleet of purpose-built vessels, none are currently able to install 14 MW+ turbines. This will change towards 2025 as newbuilds start to be delivered and existing vessels get crane upgrades. Fred Olsen Windcarrier, DEME and Cadeler are all planning crane upgrades, with the Bold Tern, Brave Tern, Sea Installer, Wind Osprey and Wind Orca all upgrading to 1600-tonne cranes between 2022 and 2024, with options for other vessels to be upgraded.

And let’s not forget the new offshore wind installation vessel that Van Oord has ordered to further strengthen its market position in offshore wind. The jack-up vessel can run on methanol and install wind turbines of up to 20 MW with a smaller carbon footprint. The vessel with a projected crane of 3000 tonnes will enter the market in 2024.

From oil & gas to wind

In addition to the purpose-built vessels, some semi-submersible heavy lift vessels originally developed for the oil and gas market are now also being proposed for turbine installation, such as Heerema Marine Contractors’ Thialf and Sleipnir. Generally considered too large and inefficient for installing the smaller turbines of the past, these vessels have instead landed work in the offshore wind industry installing substations and heavy foundations.

However, as the size of turbines increases, these units will fit right into the large cranes of heavy lift vessels such as the Thialf and Sleipnir. The Thialf will install 27 turbines – each measuring 9.5 MW – at the Arcadis Ost wind farm in the Baltic Sea in 2023, becoming the first floating vessel to install commercial wind turbines of this size. Heerema has said both the Thialf and Sleipnir are already capable of installing 15 MW+ turbines and, with some adjustments, these vessels could even install 20 MW turbines.

Quickly outdated

Vessels built early this decade are already becoming outdated as turbines grow, making owners reluctant to commit to expensive newbuilds that could be obsolete before they are profitable. The cost to manufacture an installation vessel capable of installing 14 MW+ turbines ranges from $ 300 million to $ 500 million, but owners are opting for even bigger cranes in hopes of staying competitive for longer.

A 1500-tonne crane capacity with 150 metres lifting height is generally considered the requirement to install 14 MW+ turbines. Considering current pending orders, excluding vessels assumed to be operating solely in China, all eleven vessels will have cranes with a lifting capacity of more than 2000 tonnes, with some even opting for 3000 tonnes.

Owners have one eye on the future, with some already stating they will be ready for 20 MW turbines by the end of the decade. And the demand for newer and bigger WTIVs will not slow down for a long time to come.

According to Clarksons Research, 2021 was a record year in the development of the offshore wind power generation industry. Last year saw not only a record number of start-ups, increasing global capacity to its highest levels, but it also spurred a record newbuild investment for ships required to execute the plans. Clarksons notes that a record number of newbuild orders were placed in 2021 and its data shows a total of seventeen WTIV orders placed, valued at approximately $ 2.5 billion. An additional nine options have also been booked, which could boost the order book further.

Based on a report of Rystad Energy.

SWZ|Maritime’s February offshore special

SWZ|Maritime’s February 2022 issue is an offshore special. Among the topics covered are the next generation of wind turbine installation vessels, floating offshore installation, the energy situation, future floating infrastructure and the Jones Act. The issue comes out this Friday, so don’t miss it.

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Picture (top): When Van Oord’s first wind installation vessel Aeolus was delivered in 2014 (as pictured here), the crane soon proved to be too small and was replaced by a larger one in 2018 (picture by Kees Torn/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0).

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