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Where is the US Offshore Supply Chain at?

The United States has the capability to build a huge offshore wind capacity, as we saw in the previous blog. Where will it get the personnel, equipment, and support from, and are there any obstacles to creating this sunrise industry?

The US has a well-established onshore wind industry, which now stands at a combined capacity of 94,488 MW operating in 41 states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico. Nearly 8000 MW of onshore wind turbines were installed in 2018. So, the US has some of the supply chain already in place, and the capacity to build the other structures necessary (vessels, foundations) when it needs them.

What are the opportunities for partnership?

The supply chain breaks down into four broad areas:

  • Training and jobs
  • Manufacturing
  • Installation and operations
  • Administration, legal requirements, regulation, risks and banking

The authorities in the US are aware that they will need to rely on European expertise in the beginning. JEDI (Jobs and Economic Development Impact Model) created by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that initially, US input into the supply chain will be 40% rising to 70% as local supply chains come online.

Training and Jobs

This new industry will be a source of jobs, and those people will have to be trained. The offshore oil and gas industry will obviously be a major provider of employees whose skills are transferable, but also there will be new occupations.

In Europe, training and qualifications in the skills necessary is quite extensive, with academic networks and vocational training available. The US will have to duplicate this and here is an opportunity for partnerships between universities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Manufacturing

Although it is generally felt that the first turbines will be imported from Europe, the US is expected to manufacture its own. GE has already unveiled a "Super turbine": the world's most potent offshore machine, the Haliade-X, built in France and Spain, which will have a 12 MW rating, producing 45% more energy than any other type available today. It is planned to be delivered initially in 2021. (source: New Energy Update).

Installation and Operations

The “Jones Act” might well hamper the installation of offshore wind farms somewhat. The stricture on use of US vessels and crews means that specialised European vessels would have to remain offshore, perhaps just doing the installation while “feeder barges” took the components to be installed to the location; all this is going to increase cost and expense.

Once the arrays are up and running, the wealth of operations knowledge from established wind locations around the world will benefit the US industry, and here it may well avoid some of the tribulations of first-mover countries. In particular, the creation of "digital twins" in computers to analyse and predict problems was not available two decades ago when the European industry started.

Administration and Regulatory Requirements

Let’s call that simply paperwork: covering funding and regulatory issues, environmental assessments, legal requirements, risk analysis, stakeholder involvement, legal, insurance and banking issues, and all the plethora of what we might call “soft technicalities” which have to be solved to ensure that promising projects do not stall in a morass of red tape. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) Regulatory Roadmap shows up to 11 years to reach operational status – including up to five years for site assessment – which seems exceptionally torturous and needs to be expedited. The preliminary US timing requirements for planning are here.

Case Study - Supply Chain for Block Island

The developer/owner behind this project of five GE-Alstom Wind Haliade 150 6MW turbines is Deepwater Wind (recently bought out by Ørsted). Power is transmitted to the US National Grid along a 21-mile submarine cable buried in the seabed. The installer was Fred. Olsen Windcarrier AS. The turbines are designed to resist a Category 3 storm.

The foundations were devised and constructed in the US; they were designed by Louisiana-based Keystone Engineering Inc. to withstand a 1000-year storm and built by Gulf Island Fabrication, Inc.  The blades themselves were manufactured by LM Windpower, headquartered in Denmark and manufacturer of over 205,000 wind turbine blades since 1978.

The Norwegian jack-up vessel Brave Tern installed the turbines. The Jones Act did cause complications as the nacelles for the turbines had to be picked up from St. Nazaire, rather than a more convenient US port. Even Larsen, commercial manager at Fred. Olsen Windcarrier says, “The biggest challenge in the project is a completely different character than the technical one. Working on a new continent, with US regulations and so much attention, makes completely new demands on us. The biggest risk is actually of a formal nature. All permits, ship documents, and immigration papers must be in order. We spent a lot of resources on ensuring these were correct.”

The cabling was made by the South Korean LS Cable and System, with installation by Durocher Marine and Caldwell Marine International LLC. Twenty-three other companies were involved in investment, consultancy and contracting to bring this project to fruition.

Conclusion

The Block Island project was truly international in scope. While local US corporations supplied some of the engineering and manufacturing expertise, as well as local jobs including welders, construction workers, ship crews and divers, without non-US knowledge at every stage of the project, it would not have been able to bring it to fruition.

Key bottlenecks seem to be the Jones Act, which hampers the seaborne end of proceedings, and the complexity and slow nature of the permitting process, which adds a lot of time and therefore risk to the process. In comparison, the EU permitting lead time has been reduced to 24 months to ensure that the project pipeline does not stall.

By Julian Jackson


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