Having transitioned from upstream energy into renewables I was seeing familiar technologies, vessels, and construction methodologies. However, I often heard references from the insurance community to novel concepts, prototypical technology and heightened risks as a result. My initial response was to push back on these fears, this was not prototypical technology in my opinion. But on further reflection it got me thinking; has it really all been done before?
Wind is an abundant resource that is present all over the Earth’s surface. The extraction of wind energy does not directly impact the Earth or it’s environment, making it an ideal renewable energy. Offshore wind extraction is stronger, more dense, and more consistent than onshore wind farms. Betz’s law states that we can only extract 59% of available wind energy with a turbine. This makes offshore wind farms essential to the extraction of more consistent energy.
While windmills have been around for centuries, the first turbine for electrical generation was believed to have been built in Glasgow in 1887 by Professor James Blyth. The energy crisis of 1970 is said to have prompted the US administration at the time to look into alternative backup energy. This led to the rapid prototyping and testing of various turbine concepts.
Over time, the technology grew in size and capacity. Common to upstream energy, the wind industry gradually progressed into nearshore, shallow water turbine farms. The distance from shore increased to the littoral seas to reach the stronger wind resource. It is in this progression where we see the clearer commonality between the oil & gas and wind energy industries.
Using fixed bottom wind industry technology types as a basis, we can see the origins of each type in upstream energy. While the most prevalent foundation type is undoubtably the monopile, Gravity Based Structures (GBS) were adopted for shallow water, progressing through tripod foundations and then the adoption of lattice structure jackets for the deepest fixed foundations.
While there is a lot of common technology, there are key differences between the industries. Some key similarities and differences for consideration are:
- Initial movement into near shore
- Progressive shift to deeper waters to access greater resources
- Common technology in foundation structures
- Similar anchoring methodologies & installation methods
- Differing economic models
- Dramatically different technical focus
- Focused within the limits of the continental shelves
- Wind eventually developed specialist vessels
If we accept that the wind industry is following a similar progression to that of upstream, what then is the next natural step? The answer is to move further from shore, to more remote locations, in increasingly deeper water. This last point is key. The current fixed bottom limit is broadly considered to be 50m water depth, beyond this we look to floating.
Floating wind is a nascent technology that is rapidly developing, and anecdotally is predicted to mature to commercial scale by the end of this decade. While there is some 40 floating foundation concepts on the market, they may be broadly grouped into three hull types adopted from upstream energy, namely: Semi-submersible, Spar, and Tension Leg Platform (TLP) .
Each hull type has its associated benefits and limitations. However, for the floating industry to develop and drive down the Levelised Cost Of Energy (LCOE) leading designs must be selected for the supply chain to develop delivery solutions at the scale and cost required. When looking to the horizon the future is floating, but we wait to see which designs are the chosen few.
About the Author
Daniel Sim will be speaking at the 2022 Asia Power Forum in Singapore on 15th September 2022. Daniel will be speaking on the topic of whether wind energy is mirroring the development of upstream energy. Below he introduces the topic, and gives an idea on where the presentation will develop.
To register for the Asia Power Forum or learn more about the event, click here.