Is the offshore wind farm market ready to take off?

By D.Ann Shiffler09 May 2023

Mammoet, Sarens and Buckner HeavyLift are geared up to be major players in the U.S.

The crane, rigging and specialized transport sector has been anticipating work in the offshore wind industry for several years, watching its counterparts in Europe cash in on the work these projects generate.

“The United States has long hovered on the cusp of an offshore wind energy boom, even as the industry has soared worldwide,” writes clean energy reporter Maria Gallucci for Canary Media, an independent, nonprofit newsroom covering the transition to clean energy and solutions to the climate crisis. “After many fits and starts, only seven turbines are spinning off the U.S. coast, representing 0.1 percent of the total global capacity of offshore wind farms.”

Sarens is slated to start work on an East Coast offshore wind project in May 2023.

But this may be changing, as soon as this year, she contends. And the crane and specialized transport sector is ready to go when the contractors start letting these contracts.

Mammoet, Sarens and Buckner HeavyLift are geared up to be major players in this market. Mammoet is constructing three prominent U.S. offshore wind projects in 2023, according to Robert Eykhout, business development manager for Mammoet USA North.

“Our scope of work encompasses a variety of engineered transport and heavy lift tasks, such as the load-in, handling, pre-assembly and temporary storage works for XXL monopiles and wind turbine components,” he said.

In recent years, the U.S. offshore wind industry has achieved remarkable progress in advancing offshore wind project development, Eykhout told ACT.

“This progress includes the establishment of a regulatory framework, state-level support, lease auctions, research and development, workforce development and supply chain enhancement,” he said. “We continue to be actively involved in the latter three areas, collaborating with various stakeholders to drive local industry growth. Our Mammoet colleagues around the globe have accumulated extensive experience in executing offshore wind projects, making it an exciting opportunity to combine our technical expertise with our familiarity of the local market.”

Eykhout said the next crucial step involves drawing valuable lessons from the initial large-scale commercial projects starting this year.

“A tremendous amount of effort and exceptional engineering feats have led to this moment,” he said. “The ability to respond swiftly during project execution is vital, which requires experienced personnel and access to a diverse range of heavy-lift and transport assets. It is a collective endeavor to ensure the success of the offshore wind industry in the U.S., with all stakeholders working together towards this goal.”

What has to happen?

Gallucci said that “in order to make all of the planned projects a reality, many things will need to go right, and swiftly, at every step of the way – from securing permits, procuring giant turbines and building specialized ships to laying large subsea cables, developing floating turbine technologies and securing support from communities, conservationists and commercial fishing groups.”

A major player in the offshore wind market in Europe, Mammoet is constructing three U.S. offshore wind projects in 2023.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy Wind Exchange website, the U.S. offshore wind energy project pipeline has reached 40 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, including the operational 30-megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm and the 12-MW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project. Eighteen projects in the U.S. offshore pipeline have reached the permitting phase, and eight states have set their own offshore wind energy procurement goals, which total 40 GW by 2040.

In 2021, the Biden Administration set a goal to reach 30 GW of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Vision scenarios show that by 2050, offshore wind energy could be available in all coastal regions nationwide.

For an interactive map, please visit www.boem.gov/renewable-energy/ state-activities Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

But the Wind Exchange website contends that projects planned for U.S. waters often face unique planning, siting and permitting challenges. The website shows a summary of state offshore renewable energy activities, including six new lease areas auctioned in New York Bight, two new lease areas auctioned in Carolina Long Bay and plans to lease new areas in California, the Gulf of Mexico, Central Atlantic, Oregon and Gulf of Maine.

Is the lifting, rigging and specialized transport industry in North America prepared to meet the expected demand for services? Eykhout said yes.

“While the U.S. offshore wind industry is making notable strides, it is still in the process of catching up to the decades-long advancements seen in Europe,” he said. “Nevertheless, the rapid sharing of knowledge facilitates the construction of new, purpose-built ports, manufacturing facilities and local workforce training, which is a testament to this progress. The country already possesses a robust history in onshore wind, offshore oil and gas, and delivery of many challenging and complex projects with many transferable skills towards offshore wind. Similarly, the lifting, rigging and specialized transport industries have extensive experience in safely handling large and heavy structures, providing a strong foundation for supporting the growth of the U.S. offshore wind sector.”

Mammoet is playing an instrumental role in supporting the global energy transition towards cleaner, more sustainable sources, Eykhout said.

“Our involvement in this historic shift allows us to contribute our expertise in engineered heavy lifting and transport to facilitate the development and deployment of cutting-edge wind energy solutions,” Eykhout explained. “By utilizing some of the world’s largest and most advanced HL&T tools, we can tackle the unique challenges posed by offshore wind projects. Our team is excited to work in diverse locations near coastal areas, participating in projects that expand our experience and contribute to a greener and more sustainable future for generations to come.”

Joining the action

Buckner HeavyLift Cranes will be providing a Liebherr LR11350 operating on a rental basis for the second U.S.-based offshore wind installation project, according to Brian Miller, vice president of sales.

Buckner HeavyLift said the LR 13000’s ability to crawl with a load brings benefits to WTG component marshaling.

“Buckner HeavyLift Cranes has the ideal fleet to support the emerging United States offshore wind industry with the largest inventory of 1,000-plus ton crawler cranes in North America (on the globe) including two Liebherr LR 13000s,” he said. “Buckner’s team has the most experience of any equipment provider in the U.S. onshore wind sector, and we expect that knowledge, combined with our expansive fleet of large crawler cranes, to set us apart in the U.S. offshore industry. We are a fully U.S.-owned company with U.S.-based support networks and extremely talented personnel ready for this next evolution in wind.”

Miller agreed the offshore wind industry in the U.S. has been slow to ramp up and start building.

“It is not currently a mature, flourishing market,” he explained. “The biggest inhibitor to growth is the permitting process at the local, state and federal level. Other bottlenecks like supply chain, installation vessels, etc. can be solved by the private sector via investments in infrastructure and domestic manufacturing. Until the bureaucratic barriers of entry are lessened the private sector will be reluctant to deploy capital.”

An international leader

The offshore wind power industry has been one of the most important industries for Sarens in the last decade, according to Paul Fuerneisen, key account manager.

“We have been able to use our expertise and knowledge gained in other industries for the development of solutions in the offshore wind power industry and taken this to a new level, not only in Europe but also across North America, Asia and the rest of the world,” he said. “Some examples of dedicated offshore wind technology we use are TP handlers, SGCs (Sarens Giant Cranes) for the lifting and marshaling of foundations such as jackets, monopiles and transition pieces (TPs) as well as parts of the wind turbines such as blades, hub and nacelle.”

Fuerneisen contends that Sarens’ global expertise in offshore wind will bode well when projects in the U.S. start construction in earnest.

“Our U.S. clients will get the best offshore wind service in marshalling and lifting,” he said. “We are starting our first East Coast offshore wind marshaling project in May 2023 with several additional project awards in the pipeline. This will bring some of the solutions to the U.S., and combining it with our well-trained local workforce, ensure they can meet their goals and ambitions.”

While the U.S. offshore wind industry is making notable strides, it is still in the process of catching up to the decades long advancements seen in Europe.

Fuerneisen said the offshore wind industry has already proven itself worldwide, and large-scale offshore windfarms supply reliable green energy in many markets.

“The U.S. market is just starting, and with the continued interest from the utility companies operating throughout the [country], this industry can take off rapidly especially with a strong backing of the U.S. government. Of course, like in every new industry, attention will be required to the proper training of manpower, so that all operations can be executed in a safe and efficient manner. We will provide this to our people as it is deeply embedded into our organization, to provide the local workforce the highest level of training ensuring the work can be executed safely.”

It is important that companies that start working on these new projects have the expertise and manpower to meet needs. This could be a challenge.

“It is crucial that the staff is receiving the required training for the heavy lift and heavy transport solutions which we will apply,” said Fuerneisen. “This is where our clients can benefit from our local presence, combined with experience we have built up in this industry. We see it as our purpose to meet the expected demand.”

With the offshore wind market enjoying “one of its extremely prominent moments,” especially now that it is going to enter very dynamically the U.S. market, Sarens has, on a global level, created valuable alliances with World Forum Offshore Wind, PSG Marine and Logistics Ltd., and Tugdock to service the offshore wind market internationally, according to Fuerneisen.

“Sarens has realized in the past 15 years that offshore clients require a one-stop-shop solution and, for that, has geared its services towards offering exactly that to minimize downtime and optimize the client’s expenses,” said Fuerneisen. “We offer factory-to-foundation, marshaling, TCI, and the full service package depending on what is needed.”

Two new projects for Mammoet
Mammoet handling offshore wind components.

Mammoet announced in March 2023 that it has secured contracts for two large offshore wind projects in the United States, both of which begin in 2023. Together, the two contracts cover a range of port scopes, including the load-in, load-out, handling and temporary storage of XXL monopiles, plus the pre-assembly of turbines in a U.S. marshalling port.

“Offshore wind in the U.S. has been a long time coming,” said Rick Bohne, Jr., director of sales and marketing for Mammoet in the U.S. and Mexico. “Our Mammoet colleagues have been executing these projects globally for some time, so this is an exciting opportunity to leverage the combination of our technical experience with our local market experience.”

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