OPINION | ‘Floating wind’s industrialization depends on narrowing the platform design pool’

September 15, 2023
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6 min read
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Deepwater projects are imperative if offshore wind is to unlock its true global power potential and key to commercialization will be a consolidation of the core technologies, writes Raya Peterson

The scalability and speed at which offshore wind can be deployed globally make it a crucial enabler for the energy transition and floating arrays are going to be fundamental to unlocking the potential in many new regional plays and greater potential in existing markets.

But there are still a mind-boggling 120-plus different floating substructure concepts in the market and serious engineering and budget has been invested into around 30-40 that span from the iconic oil & gas sector-inspired semisubmersible, spar, barge and tension leg platforms in both concrete and steel, to innovative, disruptive designs that feature twin- and tri-tower support structures, weathervaning turret moored systems and twin rotor designs.

Industrialization of floating wind depends on the sector narrowing this design pool down to a much smaller number so that the supply chain can be optimized and the build-out of these market-changing concepts accelerated.

Those pioneering designs that have now been successfully demonstrated at scale or in first full-scale prototype and pre-commercial projects need to be looked to for the many indispensable learnings they can provide as the sector consolidates. It is paramount that these lessons are widely shared to ensure the industry can progress as fast as possible. With ambitious government growth targets around the globe, first dedicated floating wind auctions ongoing or on the horizon, targeting deployment in the late 2020s and early 2030s, a next evolution for the industry is needed.

'However different the floating wind market's future scenarios appear, they share the fact that each hinges on consolidation of the range of platform concepts available.'

Raya Peterson
Global Lead
Ramboll Offshore Wind Advisory

At Ramboll we see several different possible scenarios –and combinations – as industrialization takes shape:

1. Floating wind first movers stand their ground. Concept designers that have deployed and demonstrated their technology ahead of the others – think Equinor’s Hywind, Principle Power’s WindFloat and BW Ideol’s damping pool barge – dominate and divide the lion’s share of the market among themselves, gradually fine-tuning their systems based on lessons learned in the field.

2. Commoditization towards technology genericization. Platform designs will become a commodity with generic designs tailored specifically for a project which are not – or are at least – less IP-protected prevail. These will be designed by several parties, independent designers and EPCs mirroring the bottom-fixed foundation market today.

3. Next-generation technologies disrupt the status quo. New-look designs supplant the incumbent semisubmersibles, spar, barges and TLPs to become market-dominant based on their significant cost reduction potential.

However different these scenarios appear, they share the fact that each hinges on consolidation of the range of floating concepts available.

Monopile manufacturing lessons

For perspective, in the bottom-fixed sector there are basically three main foundation concepts: monopiles, jackets and gravity-based structures— and some variants of each, such as the transition piece-less monopile or the suction bucket jacket.   

The primacy of the monopile to this point in offshore wind history might well be considered one of the industrial success stories of the bottom-fixed market. The ability to scale the monopile and enlarge it for ever-bigger turbines – and water depths not long ago thought fare beyond the reach of the concept – has been a significant factor in driving the costs down for conventional offshore wind.

But more, this meant all sector stakeholders were able to focus on this one foundation technology and refine and improve the design while optimizing ports,fabrication facilities and installation methods for monopiles, greatly reducing risk and cost in the process.

NEW DAWN: Spar foundations for the Hywind Tampen floating wind array await turbines in Norway ahead of installation last year (Foto: Johnny Engelsvoll / Equinor)

It may be unlikely that the floating wind sector can achieve the same level of consolidation of technology – let alone land on a ‘single’ design for floating wind platforms. The starting point is different and local site and market conditions impact the substructure choice to a higher degree than in bottom-fixed. Moreover, it will also not be efficient to transport these massive substructures from a few strategically located fabrication facilities to projects around the world – indeed is quite possible that we see certain concepts, both in terms of type and construction material coming to dominate a region or a market. 

The alternative, more disruptive opportunity for the floating wind sector to consolidate its market while still acknowledging the current diversity in the proposed concepts is to focus on standardization of primary components – a ’building block’ approach, similar to 'megablocks' in shipbuilding – and standardized column elements, standard joint configurations or the like. This would allow fabricators and ports to invest and focus their efforts on streamlining production lines for such, even if in the details some differences may be present from one concept to another.

Floating's 'leap frog' opportunity

To go a step further, there may also be ‘leapfrog’ opportunities for future floating wind designs where crucial engineering characteristics are sufficiently comparable that full-scale testing, pilots and pre-commercial demonstrators might be overstepped en route to commercialization.

Consolidation of the field of floating concepts as it emerges will bring several key benefits and will be imperative to industrialization. It will facilitate greater standardization through the entire value chain and all project phases; allow wind OEMs to adapt their equipment and control systems to a narrower number of concepts and ensure efficient integration between turbine and foundation; afford the supply chain, from factory to quayside, the chance to make the needed investments by providing more certainty regarding future requirements; be critical to achieve bankability and so access to cheaper capital in the sector; and accelerate the timeline for different phases of coming projects, particularly in terms of fabrication and installation.

All of the above will result in the ultimate goal of a reduced levelized cost of energy that clears the way for floating wind to enter the energy mainstream, and, more generally, de-risking design, fabrication, installation and operation. When we de-risk, not only does cost come down, but speed goes up; and in the fight against climate change, speed is crucial. Winning slowly – for both the floating wind sector and the our heating planet – could be the equivalent of losing.

• Raya Peterson is Global Lead of Danish engineering consultancy Ramboll's Offshore Wind Advisory. This article was written with contributions from colleagues Denis Matha and Javier Nieto.


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