By Johnny Love, Project Manager, ORE Catapult and Global Offshore Wind 2021 Rising Star
During the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) phase of an offshore wind farm’s lifecycle, wind farm operators rely heavily on offshore vessels to transport crew and equipment between the shore and the wind farm. These essential marine operations are required to deliver a combination of planned and unplanned maintenance to ensure the continued operation of the turbines.
However, most of the logistics vessels used for O&M consume marine gas oil (fossil fuels) and are currently responsible for emissions estimated at 284 kt CO2e per year.
With offshore wind capacity expected to quadruple over the next decade, our industry’s carbon footprint is also set to grow if action is not taken. Offshore wind has the opportunity to lead by example within the maritime industry. The rapid decarbonisation of the sector’s logistic vessels can be a springboard to broader maritime decarbonisation and the creation of a thriving clean maritime industry in the UK.
Offshore Wind: The ‘Springboard’ to Zero-Emission Vessels
While offshore wind emissions represent only a small fraction of total maritime emissions, we are an industry with sustainability at the heart of everything we do and can lead the charge to decarbonise the UK’s vessel fleet.
As both a potential producer and user of clean fuels, the UK’s offshore wind industry is in a unique position to act as a springboard for that broader maritime decarbonisation.
One sustainable alternative to diesel-fuelled vessels is electrification. There is already a track record of electric vessels operating successfully, for example, the Bastø Electric ferry in Norway.
For vessels heading further out to sea and in harsher environments, however, electrification is relatively new. As in the early days of electric cars, batteries’ energy density and large size and weight limit their range and usefulness. Currently, only a small portion of turbines are practically accessible by vessels under electric power alone. As the offshore wind industry continues to push the boundaries into deeper sites, disruptive innovation is required to go ‘fully electric’.
As battery technology improves, ‘Hybrid CTVs’ that use electric battery power alongside a conventional diesel drivetrain are being increasingly adopted by vessel operators across the industry. The batteries installed on these vessels can currently be recharged either by using portside infrastructure or by an onboard generator if required. Hybrid CTVs can reportedly reduce emissions by 110T of CO2 per vessel per year , though it is acknowledged that this is just a small step on the voyage towards clean maritime.
Fortunately, a step-change for electric hybrid vessels is just around the corner with the upcoming demonstration of new technology that would allow vessels to charge whilst offshore. This would be achieved by plugging directly into offshore windfarm infrastructure so that vessels can recharge their batteries infield by using renewably generated electricity.
Placing charging points offshore means it is possible for Hybrid CTVs to operate with zero emissions on turbines both near to and much further from shore. With ever larger wind farms being built further from shore, this is an important change. Just as we are seeing on the UK’s roads, hybrid cars are being followed by fully electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure is being rolled out to meet that rising demand. Offshore wind can provide the initial market for this charging infrastructure for vessels that will accelerate the decarbonisation of the maritime sector as a whole.
In addition to advances in electrifying vessels, great strides in the development of zero-emission fuels, such as hydrogen, are being made. The offshore wind industry has an increasing demand and growing business case for zero-emission fuels and maritime charging infrastructure. This base of early adopters servicing offshore wind provides the confidence needed for scaling production and infrastructure rollout in line with rising demand. This makes it possible to create a critical mass for alternative maritime fuels and power, and importantly break the ‘chicken and egg’ impasse, which has held back the clean maritime revolution so far.
Being the early adopter of electrified and zero-emission vessels also significantly benefits the UK’s offshore wind sector supply chain by developing innovative solutions that can further drive emissions reduction while stimulating growth in an emerging clean maritime industry of the future.
Check out part two of my blog to learn more about how the UK, particularly Grimsby, will play a crucial role in spearheading this vessel decarbonisation movement throughout offshore wind and the wider maritime industry.