Pioneering deepwater project, now with Orsted veteran Hugh Yendole at the helm and a government innovation deal putting wind in its sails, could be flowing power to the grid by 2029, writes Darius Snieckus
When Danish wind giant Orsted bought a majority stake in Scotland’s Salamander floating wind pilot in April 2022, then-chief commercial officer Martin Neubert said the array, being built by Irish developer Simply Blue and oil & gas contractor Subsea7 in UK North Sea, promised to provide “a lot of learnings”. There can be few sector projects of which this would be truer.
Though only unveiled in 2021, Salamander, sited in 100 meters (330 feet) of water 35km off Peterhead in the UK North Sea, already has a great deal to teach. Some of this comes from gained experience – the floating wind project has already passed several key development and permitting milestones and worked though early-stage engineering – and some comes from agilely adapting to unforeseeable changes in a rapidly evolving market.
Launched as an array of twice the current capacity ahead of the giant ScotWind leasing round, Salamander later shapeshifted into a smaller nameplate development, for a time last year outfitted with hydrogen-producing electrolysis kit before the idea was abandoned on cost grounds, before then emerging as the array coming into focus today.
Industry eyes are trained on the project not only as a first-mover, though, but also for what it will reveal about the longer-term commercial viability of constructing the tens of gigawatts of floating wind plant that is targeted by governments to start producing off Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales in the coming decades.
“Traditional offshore wind has been a success story in the UK and obviously moving to floating opens up a whole bunch of new markets,” says Orsted’s Hugh Yendole, who came on as Salamander development director last month.
“Salamander, as a ‘stepping stone’ project, will enable the industry to develop a better idea of how to do some of the gigawatt-scale projects [planned around the UK] by engaging the local supply chain and demonstrating that floating wind can work and that it doesn't present any greater challenges than traditional offshore wind did in its early innings.
'Demonstrating floating wind is "real"'
“And I think also demonstrate to markets around the world that floating is real and that the UK can play a large part in providing the necessary skills and resources to make it happen.”
Following hard graft in the early days of the floating wind project – ranging from platform design work from Ocergy and project front-end engineering by contractor Wood through to exploratory scoping around using the Global Energy Group’s Nigg yard to build the Salamander units, the project site exclusivity secured via Scotland’s so-called INTOG scheme has led to a “timeline reset”, says Yendole.
“Everything is on the table. We haven’t chosen the foundation concept: lots of players in the running and we are looking at the different ones available, their technological maturity, how we will [have our platforms] ‘fit’ into the Scottish supply chain, with British ports, what they would contribute from a risk-reduction and financial perspective.”
'These projects are so key because they give the clear indication that if we can do floating wind at ‘stepping stone’ scale, it will work at gigawatt scale'
Salamander Development Director
“On the port side, we have discussions open with pretty much all the major Scottish ports, to understand the capabilities, the industrial appetites. As Salamander is a Scottish floating wind project we have the strong desire to use it to strengthen the Scottish supply chain.”
A UK government task force earlier this year calculated Scotland alone would need “a minimum of 3-5 ports” to service the build out the world-leading 23GW now planned in its waters, but Yendole sees this as uni-dimensional.
“We see there being work for everyone who wants it,” he says. “Smaller ports will inevitably carve out a niche which perhaps larger ports aren't interested in. Investment is already underway in Aberdeen’s South Harbor, our project is close to Peterhead [where there is established coastal industrial infrastructure and underemployed oil & gas supply bases], there are any number of ports along Scotland’s east coast.”
Scale, scale, scale?
While ‘scale, scale, scale’ has been the mantra of the floating wind industry for much of the past decade as the tantalizing prospect of gigascale mega-projects flickered on the horizon, ‘pre-commercial’ arrays, from the 25MW demonstrators now being towed out off France to the 100-200MW developments being scoped out in Europe’s Northern Seas and the US Gulf of Maine, are “absolutely essential”, says Yendole.
“These projects are so key because they give the clear indication to the energy industry, to the supply chains, to other stakeholders, that we can do floating wind at ‘stepping stone’ scale and therefore it will work at gigawatt scale when required,” he says.
“But policymakers and other stakeholders need to understand that by their very nature these smaller projects need to be successful or the bigger ones ahead are going to more difficult to deliver in the time-frames and scale that is anticipated.”
Yendole, who comes to Salamander a 25-year veteran of the offshore wind sector, believes floating wind has in some ways suffered for its association with the conventional bottom-fixed sector with “people almost expecting floating to be in the same technological and economic position straightaway”.
“That was never going to happen. Like in traditional offshore wind, the early projects are going to take a little longer than originally planned, some [government] support is initially going to be needed to raise confidence that the long-term [vision] is indeed going to happen.
“But we mustn’t undervalue the learnings that not just the main market players are going to get from these smaller projects, but also the wider community of stakeholders. This is a nascent industry. It is so important we get these ‘stepping stone’ projects right and learn from them.”
Orsted’s involvement in Salamander, he adds, will ensure where there is direct experience from fixed offshore wind to be brought to bear, “introducing new turbine technology while effectively minimizing risk that this brings, for instance, but also knowing when to push the boundaries to accelerate commercialization”.
‘Innovation and a working project’
“Salamander is an ‘innovation project’ but it will also be a working floating wind project.”
Moving forward with an eye on having power flowing to grid in 2029, Salamander is gearing up. A first geotech campaign (main photo (Foto: Orsted) above) – seafloor surveys and subsea soil studies– is complete and metocean data gathering slated to start next month, engineering is kicking off in earnest. “We are aware we are on a tight timeline and believe we stand a high chance of success,” says Yendole.
“When Salamander – and several other projects its size – were kicked-off a couple of years ago, the global economic environment looked somewhat different. And of course we have seen some traditional offshore wind project finding themselves in situations that weren’t initially envisaged… We are all having to navigate our way with certain uncertainties.
“If the realism of what we are trying to achieve with floating as part of the decarbonization of economies, from local to global, is truly at the forefront of minds from policymakers on down to industry and on to local stakeholders, then I think projects like Salamander – and in some way more importantly the projects that build on Salamander – will succeed.
“The [sector] timelines might have been slightly idealized but I believe Salamander is among the projects that'll get things on track.”
This article was first published in Aegir Insights' intelligence newsletter, Beaufort.
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