As CEO of BW Offshore, one of the world’s largest floating oil & gas production and storage vessel (FPSO) owners, Marco Beenen is well-versed in many facets of the energy and maritime sectors, but perhaps none so much as floating platforms – and finite resources. So his declaration as his company took “strategic ownership” of French technology developer Ideol recently that floating wind had “unlimited potential” felt a philosophical statement of intent regarding BW’s energy transition.

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The Norwegian-based group, which has converted some 40 FPSOs for operation in major maritime regions around the world, is aiming to make the rebadged BW Ideol into nothing less than a “global champion” for the floating wind sector, building on first arrays in Europe, Asia and the US. And Beenan believes BW Offshore’s oil & gas heritage will be a big help.

“When I said ‘unlimited’ versus ‘limited’ I meant it – and I think this a view clearly shared with Ideol – with reference to traditional [bottom-fixed] offshore wind,” said Beenen, who is chairman of the new venture. “This is where the industry has come from yes – first from onshore to offshore shallow waters – but you clearly see the limitations popping up. And the biggest of these is ‘scale’.”

“Developing near-shore projects you’re ‘in the way’ of merchant shipping lanes, of fisheries, of other shoreline and nearshore infrastructure – you’re stuck all fighting for the same space. That is in itself a limiting factor,” he says, speaking exclusively to Recharge after the partnership was announced.

Beenen argues there are many parallels to be drawn between wind and oil & gas, starting with the latter’s evolution from land-based operations into the marine environment. “You could say something similar happened in oil & gas [in the 1980s] as we are seeing now in wind,” he notes. “Onshore, then nearshore [offshore oil & gas platform], but it was only we ‘cracked the nut’ of deepwater that scale really got going.”

Through an oil & gas lens, he adds, “you look at offshore wind and have to say: ‘if you really want to scale up you need space and to catch the best winds – and that’s floating [wind]’ on deepwater sites”.

Having launched two prototypes of its ‘damping pool’ platform design – one, FloatGen, off France in 2018, followed by another, Hibiki, off Japan, and with arrays using its design on the cards for the US Pacific, French Atlantic and a full-scale development off Asia – Ideol has been singing from the same hymn sheet for the better part of a decade.

BW Ideol targets involvement in the development of some 10GW of floating wind projects by the end of the decade – as the sector scales up toward a fleet expected to climb toward 250GW in the same period driven by over $800bn in new projects, many being spurred by the growing shift in capital spending by international oil & gas operators, according to latest numbers from Norway’s Rystad Energy.

Ideol CEO Paul de la Guérivière, who took on the top job as the partnership was formed, said: “This is the time to scale the manufacturing, to start awarding commercial-scale tenders, to deploy new supply chains – but we cannot do everything alone – it needs partnerships.

“We are quite happy being the ‘small but smart’ partner and to try to team intelligently with companies that have complementary views and skills,” he adds.

Beenen agrees, pointing to his company’s comfort handling $1-2bn projects as it did in the offshore oil market – “where we built up a certain industrial capacity and experience” – but underlines BW Offshore would be approaching the floating wind supply chain from a “very different” angle, given that “for an FPSO project, we’d be building it at two or three [fabrication] facilities and integrated in one, but for floating [wind] it will much more about location and local content, building units in the location where you plan to develop the wind farm”.

“We don’t say everything is applicable [from offshore oil to float wind] but we can see what we can sensibly use and how we might combine approaches.”

Partnership central

Partnership has been central to Ideol’s technology commercialisation model since its launch, with the company having collaborated with contractor Bouygues for the flagship FloatGen prototype, and in tie-ups with developers including BayWa and Elicio, for the upcoming ScotWind licencing round off Scotland, and as part of the Eolmed consortium’s pilot array off France alongside Total.

De la Guérivière said: “Partnership have always been very important to us. [In this case,] BW Offshore’s track-record of project development and deep-water expertise and [Ideol’s] established position in floater design and engineering… provides a strong platform for accelerated growth as a leader in floating wind technology and growing developer of offshore renewable energy projects.”

“In fact,” he adds, “[the formation of BW Ideol] has been welcomed by our existing partners, who see it as adding further competency.”

In the near-term BW Ideol’s focus is tightly trained on the first pure-play floating wind power arrays set to use its open-centred semisubmersible design, but looking to farther horizons Beenen sees the offshore e-fuels space as one to secure early entry into, given its experience with “transporting molecules”.

“We need to get to clean fuels. We can’t do everything with electrification. But the only way to do that is to use clean energy. Ammonia and hydrogen, for instance,” he says. “Clean fuel factories offshore that you do at scale to make clean fuel affordable [with repurposed FPSOs for hydrogen or ammonia shuttling to shore], for it to become market-competitive.

“The need for energy is so large globally and then on top of that we want to replace [fossil fuels] with clean energy. So we will need a huge volume. Scale is also the main driver in making this energy affordable, to bring down the LCOE. This is another strength of floating: there is so much more water to build in.”

The need for energy is so large globally and then on top of that we want to replace [fossil fuels] with clean energy. So we will need a huge volume. This is another strength of floating: there is so much more water to build in

BW Offshore’s home market will make an interesting case study in the wider offshore-energy narrative, believes Beenen, as new Power-to-X developments based around hydrogen production – several of which, as Recharge covered in a report on the topic, are now in pilot-stage development – take up their place alongside more conventional power-to-shore arrays.

“Electrification is currently happening from onshore [power generation sent by cable to offshore platforms] but that is quite expensive,” he highlights. “Powering offshore oil & gas platforms with floating wind makes sense and that is a world we understand as well.

“The potential is huge when we get still further offshore and catch better winds and – disconnected from the grid – produce e-fuel for global markets. Then it is just a matter of mooring projects wherever the winds are richest.

“Pure-play floating power plants exporting directly to a regional market will be the right choice in some cases but the e-fuels vision it progressing quickly,” adds Beenen. “This is becoming more and more of interest to oil & gas [sector] companies.”

Floating emissions reduction

There is another element to the oil & gas bridge for BW Ideol: floating wind-powered emissions reduction projects, such as the 88MW Hywind Tampen currently being built by Equinor in the North Sea.

Last May Ideol inked deal with Kerogen Capital, a private equity fund manager with a specialist track-record in the international petroleum sector, to develop first projects in this fast-emerging transition play.

“FPSO’s need between 50-130MW of power to run – that is not large compared to many the floating wind projects being planned now – but it could be a very interesting opportunity, a niche transition market” says Beenen.

“Not least considering that if you are talking about a standalone floating wind farm it could take four to five years to develop, but on the back of an [operating] oil & gas field that could go much more quickly for, say, a five-wind-turbine array.

Despite the many benefits Beenen expects BW Offshore’s industrial experience to bring to the tie-up with Ideol, he and de la Guérivière agree they won’t be taking a page from the offshore oil book on cost reduction.

“It is very different to manufacture one FPSO or one big [oil & gas] semisub than manufacturing 50-100 floating wind units – I would be cautious on the assumption that oil & gas could [use historical methods of] cost reduction to reduce the cost of floating wind – they are still different markets,” states de la Guérivière.

Beenen agrees: “I don’t think many feel oil & gas has been terribly good in reducing costs. What we have done well is to get smarter with technology to access more oil & gas, with the focus being on production. And that we will try to bringing across to floating wind.”