Offshore wind can learn key lessons from the oil & gas sector over collaboration as it moves into an era of large-scale deepwater floating deployment, a senior executive with experience of both industries told a Recharge-organised event on the energy transition.

Sian Lloyd Rees, UK managing director for Mainstream Renewable Power, said the hydrocarbons sector had shown itself adept at collaborating to achieve cost breakthroughs under challenging circumstances.

“When I came into the wind industry, I was surprised how little collaboration there is between developers, between developers and the supply chain,” Lloyd Rees told a panel on floating wind at the Energy Transition Forum on Thursday.

By contrast she said: “If you look at the history of oil & gas, at every point where the fields have gone into deeper, harsher waters when the oil price is low [and] you need a breakthrough in terms of cost of getting that oil and gas out, it has always been a massively collaborative venture where you share risk and reward.”

Lloyd Rees said Mainstream, which is currently integrating with Aker Offshore Wind – both owned by Norwegian parent group Aker Horizons – had deliberately merged teams to “transpose learning” between those with an offshore oil & gas background and those with more expertise in renewables.

Lloyd Rees told the Energy Transition Forum, organised in conjunction with Recharge’s sister title Upstream: “There are lessons to be learned from both perspectives. Neither industry is perfect when it comes to floating wind.” Mainstream has large-scale ambitions in the floating sector including giga-scale projects off Scotland and South Korea.

Jonathan Boutrot, offshore wind market leader for certification giant Bureau Veritas, agreed that “experience of oil & gas, or the maritime industry is key” as the floating wind sector looks to put platforms into harsh offshore conditions for many years of exposure to corrosion and fatigue.

Boutrot added that Bureau Veritas’ work so far in the floating wind sector suggests “the first lesson is that project developers and all the stakeholders should engage with certification bodies very early in the process”.

'Fundamental choices' over technology

Pierre-Antoine Tetard, vice president for BlueFloat Energy – among the most ambitious players in floating wind globally – said the developer is working hard to run the rule over almost 90 platform designs in the fledgling sector, pre-selecting some to “funnel down the choice”.

South Korea to lead floating to first 16GW

Floating wind is set to see 16GW of turbines installed globally by 2030, David Linden of Westwood Global Energy Group, told the Energy Transition Forum.

The floating sector already has 127GW of projects either under development or flagged for potential deployment around the world, said Linden, the research group’s head of energy transition, who estimated delivering all that capacity would require roughly $335bn of investment.

“That’s about $100bn more than we’ve spent on the whole offshore wind industry.”

Westwood Energy Group has identified a top five of markets – led by South Korea, followed by the UK, Spain, China and Italy – that will lead the floating wind sector into gigawatt scale deployment.

The question then will be “does it stay a niche industry [overshadowed by fixed bottom] or does it become a core part of the blue economy”, said Linden.

“That’s a lot. Probably all of them have some merits,” Tetard told the panel moderated by Recharge editor-in-chief Darius Snieckus.

Tetard said developers face “fundamental choices” over the use of concrete or steel in their chosen technologies.

Industrialisation will be “absolutely key” he said. Concrete “has some strengths” when it comes to mass deployment, though steel is also likely to play a role if production can be sufficiently automated.

“We don’t think there will be a winner-take-all [but] a handful of winners for the supply of global foundations.”

Karl Daly – vice president of offshore wind at offshore engineering and contracting group DOF Subsea – told the Energy Transition Forum that technology will play a crucial role in opening up deeper waters and harsher conditions, for example by reducing the time needed to deploy arrays in limited, seasonal installation windows.

“You won’t be able to install on 365 days so it’s very important to get your time at sea reduced.”

Daly added that digital twinning technology is “going to be a big cornerstone of future deployments, where you can understand what’s happening from the seabed to surface at the top of your tower”.