The US expecting to create a whole manufacturing industry which will grow on the back of investments, contracts, manufacturing, jobs and services, for the OW sector.
How Likely Is This?
In the longer term it is obvious that having significant manufacturing capacity in coastal US states makes more sense than making components elsewhere and sending them on long sea journeys to their installation site. However, in the short term the sector will require a great deal of imported machinery and skills.
International free trade has been instrumental in creating a positive marketplace for OW, by driving down costs and accelerating growth. Unfortunately this has had contrary effects on local prosperity, where areas do not receive the benefits of investment. Public and political support for OW developments can therefore be undermined.
This creates a dilemma for all concerned: losing community support threatens to damage the immature US offshore wind market. The benefits of free trade – notably, its significant role in driving down the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) – must therefore be balanced against the dangers of alienating local communities, stakeholders and political groups.
The experience of the UK in this matter is salutary. The UK government has a requirement for 50% of the supply chain to be local content by 2030. Currently many major components and subsystems are manufactured outside the UK.
According to RenewableUK in 2015, the share of the UK content in the
OW projects are as follows:
Initial stages of planning and development: 57% UK content
Manufacturing and construction phases: 18% UK content
Operation and maintenance stages: 73% UK content
Given that the largest expenditure is in phase two, the UK is not moving towards its local content targets particularly quickly.
This is an issue which may impact the US OW roll out, although the upside is that the US has a much larger manufacturing capacity than the UK.
The US Procurement Model by 2030
Key industry components required to achieve an almost $70 billion utility-scale build-out of America's offshore wind power capacity by 2030 include:
More than 1,700 offshore wind turbines & towers .....................$29.6 billion
More than 1,750 offshore turbine & substation foundations.......$16.2 billion
More than 8,000 kilometers of upland, export & array cables .....$10.3 billion
More than 60 onshore & offshore substations.............................$ 6.8 billion
Marine support, insurance & project management......................$ 5.3 billion
TOTAL by 2030: $68.2 billion
(Source: Supply Chain Contracting Forecast for US Offshore Wind Power 2019)
There are no concrete answers regarding which components will be made on U.S. soil, which companies will make them, and where this will happen. New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Rhode Island are all competing for a central role in the offshore wind supply chain.
One item unlikely to be made in the U.S. in the near future is the turbine nacelle, which will be imported from Europe. Outside of China, the market for offshore wind turbines is dominated by Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas, with Paris-based GE Renewable Energy investing heavily to catch up.
But many other major components — including foundations, towers and blades — are fair game for U.S. manufacturing, said Stephanie McClellan, a director at the Renewables Consulting Group.
Trump Tariffs on Imported Materials
The imposition of tariffs on imported commodities such as steel and aluminum are another issue to contend with. Aggressive foreign trade practices are an "assault on our country," President Trump said, before signing a Section 232 proclamation that adds 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% one on imported aluminum. Both essential materials for renewable energy systems. "Steel and aluminum are important commodities for critical wind, solar and storage components,with few bankable substitute materials available," state Wood Mackenzie Power. They calculate that this will add 3-5% to the LCOE, which will make it more difficult to get OW projects off the ground.
Clearly, it makes no sense to set up a US manufacturing sector, when tariffs make it uncompetitive with European or Asian manufacturers. This is the dilemma faced by the domestic industry.
Current US Potential for Manufacturing
The NYSERDA OW Master Plan looks at potential manufacturers:
“Currently, there are no [Onshore Wind] tower manufacturers located in the North-East. Although New York has over 100 steel fabricators with the majority of them being involved in structural steel building fabrication, none of these are located at or close to coastal water transport. Any of the existing New York steel fabricators would have to acquire the OSW tower technology specifications from a U.S. or international tower manufacturer and secure a suitable coastal location. The top steel fabricators in the State include Nucor Steel in Auburn, New York and Vass Pipe & Steel in Mineola, New York.”
Other components and subsystems are similar. The US industry will have to be created from scratch. This will require sufficient projects in the pipeline to ensure that the companies can benefit from a continuous order book. Obviously, this was how the European industry started, but it had no competition, and the US will have to thrive in a very competitive environment, as Senvion found to its cost.
The US has made a start: the foundation jackets for Block Island were made at Gulf Island Fabrication in Houma, Louisiana. Prysmian and Nexans both have high-voltage cable manufacturing plants in South Carolina for onshore applications, which could make subsea cables. Several other US plants could also potentially build infrastructure. Docks and port areas are being scoped. The potential is there.
The various planned arrays will have some US content. However there is a dilemma for all concerned – is it more efficient to purchase these systems from European or Asian sources who are making them already, or to develop a domestic industry which will have to fight hard to take market share and is hampered by tariffs? Legalistically specifying a percentage of components as local content may not necessarily be the most advantageous way to proceed.
The US offshore wind market is probably the most rapidly-developing renewable energy sector in the world. Follow #USOW20 for the latest news and expert opinions.
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By Julian Jackson – writer on technology, arts, blockchain and cryptocurrencies