May has brought some excellent visible progress in offshore energy in the US.
In Orino, Maine the prototype of the 1/8th scale foundation prototype for a floating offshore turbine system was unveiled at the University of Maine. The UMaine project, one of three floating designs which are part of a Department of Energy funding round, will be installed off the Maine coast and will be the first of its kind in the United States.
Slightly further south in Massachusetts ground was broken on the new terminal being built to serve as main port facility for offshore wind projects being built off the coasts of both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Here are a few of the comments from the ceremony held on May 6.
“Investing in infrastructure just like this creates jobs now and a stronger Commonwealth for the next generation,” said Governor Patrick. “This is how Massachusetts claims its place as a hub for a new American industry.”
“This project has the potential for the kind of economic impact our city hasn’t seen since the era of textile manufacturing. Careers in welding, electro-mechanical drafting, and all the associated service positions to go along with it,” said New Bedford City Councilor Henry Bousquet. “The fact that it’s good for our environment is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Although modest by international standards, moving these US projects from idea to construction is a huge step forward – here’s to hoping 2013 brings more of the same.
A common sign of an immature market is a lack of standardization. The stories of how unnecessarily proprietary technology can lock entire industries into specific suppliers over decades, ensuring artificially inflated prices and less than stellar customer service is the stuff of many university business courses. The classic example is railroads in the 1800’s and how companies would build their system with a unique gauge thereby ensuring competing systems couldn’t use their track.
Customization was also the case with subsea telecommunications systems. For the better part of the first 100 years of the industry cable repair ships had to carry specific repair kits for each type of cable the systems in its footprint – although great for manufacturers, this made the entire system very costly and unwieldy and so the industry worked together to produce the Universal Joint which standardized much the repair of subsea telecommunications systems.
Given that well over 90% of the world’s communications goes over these systems to this day – I think we can all agree this was a huge success.
The new world of large scale offshore transmission needs to follow this path. J-tube manufacture and placement, cable design, cable protection, routing assumptions, burial targets, contracting models, spares, substation design, site logistics management, all of these are largely customized for a particular project with little or no priority given to the value gained in price improvement, efficiency and project quality when common industry standards are applied.
Due to the size and scale of markets around the world and the desire to drive sown construction costs as quickly as possible to align renewable energy prices with traditional production, project developers (and the governments who are supporting the emergence of the industry) should insist on offshore transmission system standardization.
Lets build efficiency and cost effectiveness into the market at its onset.
Good article posted today at Wind Energy Update on offshore cable installation. A couple of years a go it was hard to get the topic of offshore transmission recognized as a critical factor for building energy production offshore, today this no longer the case – in fact we even get our own conferences now.
In the article they interview Jack Wattel, commercial director, Visser & Smit Marine Contracting and Geoff Fisher, vice president, Marine Renewables and Cables Division, Technip Offshore – both reputable guys at reputable installers. Collectively they highlight the following as areas challenging the industry:
- Operating Environment
- Project Scheduling
- Technical Issues
While you are read the detail for yourself – remember, these are the current state of affairs in a decade old market like the North Sea – what I find interesting is thinking through the implications for a brand new market like the US.
The glass-is-half-empty mindset might see only the risk (which is real) still remaining still after 10+ years and the lack of comparable experience and supply chain in North America.
However I prefer my glass half-full, seeing the potential of large scale renewable energy projects in the water – large scale installation is maturing rapidly and offshore transmission projects bring entirely new industries and the skilled labor and knowhow which goes with them into our maritime economy and seaport districts.
The issues surrounding financial losses related to the installation and maintenance of offshore power cables are having a negative impact on the offshore wind industry around the world.
A recent article in industry leading publication Recharge mentioned “that about 80% of total paid claims related to offshore wind farms stem directly from cable-related issues.”
Installing all types of cable offshore is a mature practice which has been accomplished since the 1850’s however the scale, density and volume of cable installation resulting from the expansion of offshore wind around the world has brought to the market many project developers, EPC’s, financiers, insurers, permitting authorities, installers and related supply chain product and service suppliers with limited experience in understanding how to plan for and accommodate the risk inherent in operating an offshore cable plant over the lifecycle of an offshore wind-farm or interconnector.
Here is a good high level list of issues to be accounted for in any offshore cable installation project: site specific seabed conditions, water depth, weather, inshore landings, permitting constraints, installation technique, vessel selection, installation equipment, proposed route conditions, environmental considerations along route, supply chain constraints, site logistics constraints, survey data quality, burial depth targets, known marine life, prior users at site, cable crossings, and cable protection.
150+ years of cable installation experience has shown that if a project is planned properly these issues related to cable installation can be largely avoided if best practices in project planning are followed. Of course, one of the most effective ways to institute best practices starts with project planning. It is a lack of a sophisticated understanding of the risk associated with the installation, operations and maintenance of an offshore transmission system during the planning stages of a project which is the root of the problems seen to date.
The long decline of the industrial upper mid-west is an old story. For decades former manufacturing strongholds in Great Lakes states like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin have worked tirelessly to reinvent themselves for a post-industrial world.
Back in the day the Great Lakes provided many things to make this region strong, but chief among them was a high volume transportation corridor needed for an industrial age, without which mid-west manufacturing would have never happened.
So the question might be asked – is it possible to invent a way (without destroying them) in which the Great Lakes could be the foundation of yet another economic revolution?
Two efforts, one in Michigan and one in Ohio are on the right path.
First, Grand Valley State University will be launching its wind buoy on its third year of offshore data gathering in Lake Michigan. This project has carefully gathered mountains of baseline wind and related data which will help build the case for wind power far offshore in the deep waters of Lake Michigan.
Second, the LEEDCO Icebreaker project was recently awarded a DOE grant to develop a demonstration offshore windfarm off the coast of Cleveland in Lake Erie. The project would be the first of its kind in freshwater anywhere in the world.
On the off-chance that Natural Gas turns out to not be the answer to all of our energy problems and if the idea that locally produced zero-emissions technology will play an important role in our regional energy portfolio then the Great Lakes may yet again provide the keys to a mid-west industrial revolution.
Earlier this week in Brussels, the NER300 announced a new round of funding for the development of innovative low-carbon energy technology. This is the second round of this program with the first having resulting in 23 awards with a total of over €1.2 billion in funding granted from Government which reportedly kicked off a further € 2 billion in private funds in support of these projects.
This program is very similar in principal to the way the DOE works in the US.
Although it is currently the fashion in American politics to forget that much of the infrastructure the country enjoys today (however dated) was conceived and built generations ago via these exact types of programs (think ARPANET, Bonneville, TVA, and Rural Electrification & Telephone) the truth is without them, much of the country would not be what it is today.
Recognizing that massive societal shifts in technology are often best realized when risk is properly understood and allocated between government and private industry – corresponding funding models can then encourage good cooperative behavior.
NER300 & DOE are on the right path.
Windpower Offshore is reporting that construction of the Fukushima Floating Offshore Wind Demonstration Project will begin this month. The project is being led by Marubeni (who is also one of the investors in the Atlantic Wind Connection) and will have the turbine supplied & Installed by Hitachi Zosen and the platform supplied by Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding.
To my mind, when you combine the activity now underway in Japan with the efforts off of Norway and Portugal and the recent DOE awards which included 3 US based floating demonstrator projects, it seems that commercial viability is being brought rapidly into focus for Floating Offshore Wind – an idea which seemed little more than sci-fi a few years back.
In 2009 President Obama created the Ocean Policy Task Force the purpose of which was to “develop recommendations to enhance our ability to maintain healthy, resilient, and sustainable ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes resources for the benefit of present and future generations.”
Final recommendations were published in 2010 which are now being used as a set of foundational planning guidelines in the use of our coastlines and territorial ocean waters for current and future generations. The recommendations can be found here
It is natural to applaud such efforts as a means by which to repair some of the damage human impact has had on the marine ecosystem over centuries past. It should also serve us well in looking forward to proactively avoid known environmental sins while sustaining traditional maritime industry. However, more than simply sustaining what we have is needed.
It is unrealistic to expect that future generations will require less in the way of access to raw materials by which to build their world. In fact, given global population and societal trends, it is logical to assume that future needs will require more of these basic ingredients by which economies are made. The simple truth is many of these resources will be found and sourced from the marine environment. Despite our knowing so little about them, oceans and large freshwater lakes likely contain many of the raw materials and natural characteristics which can and will significantly aid the necessary and inevitable expansion of human development.
A robust and growing set of US based marine industries is therefore not simply a nostalgic dream, something only to be found in history books. The marine environment is the largest natural feature of our world. In the US up until very recently it was the sea and the lakes from which much of our wealth was created or transported. While it is true that the time of many of those industries has passed, that by no means should allow us to conclude that there are not others who can take their place.
Ironically, those of us alive today have little or no experience building maritime industry, a predicament unimaginable only a few short generations ago. With the virtual elimination of the commercial shipbuilding from its most traditional American yards on through to the painful contractions of American fishing fleets, there are few if any alive today who have first hand experience at building new, large-scale, innovative and commercially viable marine based industries – it is a skill we will need to lean all over again.
Consider, the following:
• A recent MIT study showed a 100% increase in the intensity & duration of hurricanes and tropical storms since the 1970’s
• Hurricane Sandy is expected to cost over $50 Billion in damage, much of it to infrastructure such as the transmission grid
• According to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 400,000 square miles of Arctic Ice, an area larger than many European countries, has melted in the last 30 years
• A US Federal study published in 2012 warns the U.S. power grid is vulnerable to terrorist attack
Whether or not you personally agree with the way Climate Change is handled by the media or politicians, I am sure we can all agree that something big seems to be happing with our environment. We might also agree that an over-dependence on fossil fuels for our fuel has had, and continues to have, serious impact on our regional economies and the way we fund the expansion and maintenance of the US transmission grid. The physical foundation of our way of life is decades out-of-date, underfunded and upgrades are increasingly impossible to permit.
In short: transmission is a significant national security risk, but not yet a national priority.
The installation of electrical systems under the sea to connect offshore energy production or as an alternative to transmission on land which is increasingly difficult to permit – offers an environmentally appropriate, secure and efficient way to build the much needed coastal electrical grid of the future.