A shortfall in manufacturing capacity for offshore wind turbine towers could hinder Europe’s energy transition plans, according to the latest in a string of industry studies highlighting looming bottlenecks in a fast-growing sector.

Modelling of data on the expansion of European offshore wind parks by Oslo-based consultancy firm Rystad Energy showed that demand for offshore turbine towers will outstrip manufacturing capacity by 2028 unless the continent takes decisive steps to ramp up production capabilities.

The passing point in 2028 could lead the very next year to demand exceeding supply “by a significant margin” raising risks of spiralling prices in a sector that Rystad describes as "critical component of Europe’s energy transition plans".

Rystad translated European demand for offshore wind towers as requiring more than 1.7 million tonnes of steel in 2029, but found that manufacturing capacity "will be a maximum of around 1.3 million tonnes, meaning supply can only meet about 70% of demand”.

Heading off this bottleneck would require manufacturers to to initiate expansion over the next two years as it takes between two and three years to build new facilities. The crunch could come even sooner if there is a tightening in global steel markets of the kind that could diminish utilisation of existing capacity, Rystad warned.

Manufacturing supply and demand for turbine towers in Europe shown in a June 2023 study Photo: Rystad Energy

"Turbine sizes keep growing as the importance of offshore wind to the global power grid accelerates, and tower demand is projected to surge accordingly. This is a golden opportunity for manufacturers to capitalise on increased demand, but new capacity needs to be added imminently if Europe is going to avoid a supply headache,” stated Alexander Flotre, vice president at Rystad Energy.

The study on turbine towers is just the latest alert on looming bottlenecks in a global offshore wind sector where, in many cases, growth is being stoked up by ambitious targets for reducing emissions, entailing a big shifting to clean energy.

As a technologically less complex element of the supply chain, the shortage of turbine towers can still be addressed, Rystad reckons.

"European producers must initiate more expansions within the next two years, at the latest. They should not find this problematic as wind towers are made of steel, with no particularly complex or specialised machinery required," the report asserted.

But the increasing scale of offshore wind turbines is also a factor to be reckoned with.

Noting that average turbine capacity fixed in Europe will reach almost 10MW megawatts in 2023, Rystad Energy estimated that 50% of the total turbines installed between 2029 and 2035 will be bigger than 14MW, with some projects forecasting to build beyond 20MW at the beginning of 2030.

Forecast of turbine sizes in Rystad Energy study of June 2023 Photo: Rystad Energy

"As rotor dimensions grow, turbine sizes increase and larger towers are required. This growth is more prominent in Europe, where offshore wind developers have requested turbines of 12MW or larger for their projects" Rystad stated.

Spain and Denmark currently dominate European offshore wind tower manufacturing, accounting for about 90% of the estimated 1.1 million tonnes of the continent’s supply, according to the same report.

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