'Our ambition is based on a real belief in floating wind'

5 MINUTES | Siem Offshore Contractors managing director Regis Rougier tells Darius Snieckus about the group's ambitions in the floating wind sector 

Early-moving offshore wind contractor Siem Offshore Contractors (SOC) nailed its colours firmly to the mast of floating technology last week when it joined Japanese engineering giant Hitachi Zosen in investing in French outfit Ideol – which is developing a multi-gigawatt pipeline with developers including Quadran, Gaelectric and Atlantis Energy – as part of plans to offer "turnkey" delivery for floating wind projects around the world. 

Darius Snieckus spoke with SOC managing director Regis Rougier about the company's ambitions in the floating and offshore wind markets.

Though Siem [Offshore Contractors] was an early believer in offshore wind, this is your first foray into floating. What convinced you the time was right to invest in the sector?

Our ambition is based on a real belief in floating wind. We have been involved in the traditional fixed-bottom industry for many years – and of course offshore oil and gas before that – and now we see what is coming is a deeper-water play [in offshore wind]. With this will come floating wind farms, just like FPSOs [floating production, storage and offloading vessels] came for the oil and gas industry as it moved into deeper waters. I believe we are going to see the same transition happen in offshore wind.

Ideol has a group of hugely enthusiastic and highly competent people with a great [floating wind platform] concept – and we have been studying many of these – so we are happy to partner with them to help move floating wind into industrialisation.

Could you outline the industrial fit you see with Ideol and Hitachi Zosen, from the point of view of Siem’s core competencies?

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We have a long track record in cable installation – we have our own cable installation vessel – so this is very much in our DNA, but we also have a background in subsea engineering, as part of the Siem Group. The two businesses we know well. This knowledge will be very important for our work in floating wind [due to the moorings-centric nature of floating units]. 

Also, when you look at Siem’s fleet of offshore construction and support vessels, we have twelve anchor handlers, again very useful for floating wind project development. In fixed-bottom offshore wind construction, heavy-lift vessels are absolutely necessary; not in floating. For floating you need anchor handlers, cable layers, and various subsea assets, and this we have to offer.

Much as there are clear cross-over benefits from bringing offshore oil contracting experience into the thinking on offshore wind project development, not least floating wind, it could also be argued there are central differences, based on the one-off installation of an oil production platform or FPSO and a 50-100-unit wind farm. How have you been adapting your approach as a contractor?

For offshore wind, the key is cost. Floating wind is too expensive right now but as we move to commercial-scale wind farms, the synergies of serial production and installation, and the continued scale-up of the turbines, will bring the cost down very quickly. 

We are currently involved in the Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm [SSE’s £2.6bn ($3.3bn) project off Scotland] and we see that the logistics planning for the towing and installation of 84 jackets is quite similar to the logistics planning of a commercial-scale floating wind farm, and there is no real difference [in] scheduling, pre-mooring, orchestration of anchor handlers etc.. This is definitely part of what is motivating us to move into floating wind and key to our involvement with Ideol – defining an optimised installation methodology.

Balancing the operational spheres of quayside, tow-out and mooring at site, will have to be a finely tuned thing. Do you have a sense yet of how quickly a floating unit could be installed after construction, or indeed how long it would take to construct a 50-turbine project?

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What happens on the quayside is outside our scope, so I won’t speak on that. But from the interface quayside as turbines are ready one-by-one, and based on a continuous stream of operation – towing, mooring, returning to quayside – we should be able to tow-out and install a unit every two days.

A first project on the horizon? The French arrays [four 25MW pilot projects being developed in the Mediterranean off France and Atlantic Ocean] would seem an obvious opportunity.

At this early stage in the industry’s development, creativity and innovation are very important to finding new ways of doing things at lower cost. Installation – like construction – has a big part in this. This is challenging, because while we want to establish standardised operations for the sake of the efficiencies that come with this, each project is dependent on region [the North Sea versus the Mediterranean versus the Sea of Japan, for instance] and different marine and environmental conditions, and we will have to optimise our process for this.

Given the history-shown perils of “turnkey” EPCI [engineering, procurement, construction, installation] projects in the offshore oil industry, how does the model get adapted for offshore wind in a way that will help reduce costs?

We have been involved in EPCI cabling projects for many years in traditional offshore wind – designing, manufacturing, installing, testing a cable, taking responsibility for its warranty period. This is what we are used to, a package approach. 

Extending this for a floating wind project, to include the mooring system as well as fabrication and tow-out of the floater together with Ideol and Hitachi Zosen, is exactly what we want to do. For floating wind to become commercial every project will have to be evaluated on a turnkey basis. This will drive the [energy] prices down accordingly.