The Danish offshore industry is busy shifting over from oil and gas to offshore wind. Ten thousand wind turbines are planned to be installed in the North Sea in the years ahead.
By Jan Aagaard. Focus Denmark no. 1 2012.
Fishing vessels no longer fill the harbour at Esbjerg, which was once one of Denmark’s largest fishing ports. Most of the fishermen have long since moved from this industrial city on Denmark’s western seaboard to other fishing ports further up the coast.
The harbour basins are now populated with supply ships, guard ships, exploration vessels and other specialised craft which service the drilling platforms in the North Sea off the coast of Esbjerg where the Danish oil and gas fields are located.
Esbjerg has been the centre of the Danish offshore industry since the extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea started more than 40 years ago. But in the last decade, a new offshore activity has become evident at the harbour in Esbjerg: wind energy.
On one of the outer piers lie 12 gigantic wind turbine blades, partly blocking the view of the holiday island of Fanø. To the south, a new harbour area is taking shape, with even more blades and other wind turbine components stored in a warehouse. They are being readied for shipping out to offshore wind farms that are under construction off the coasts of Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.
Five kilometres to the north, several large ships are docked in the harbour. One of them is MPI Discovery. With its giant crane and six 72 metre long jack-up legs – which can be extended down to the seabed – it looks like a cross between a drilling platform and a supply ship. The enormous craft is one of the transport and installation vessels that are deployed when offshore wind turbines are installed in the North Sea. The vessel is currently being re-rigged at offshore company Semco Maritime’s new facilities in the harbour.
Esbjerg’s new role
In recent years, Esbjerg has adopted a new role and has developed into Europe’s leading port for shipping offshore wind turbines. The port has accounted for two thirds of the 3 GW (gigawatts) of offshore wind power so far installed in Europe. 65 percent of all Danish wind turbines have been shipped from Esbjerg, which has also been used to ship components to a number of offshore wind farms including the UK’s Lincs, Gunfleet Sands and London Array.
The port of Esbjerg is well-positioned in relation to Denmark’s wind energy industry companies, most of which are concentrated in the western and southwestern region of the country. In recent years, some of the many local offshore companies and energy companies have succeeded in putting their know-how to use in the offshore wind industry, while continuing their oil and gas activities.
That is the background against which Esbjerg aims to strengthen its position as a focal point for the establishment, operation and maintenance of the many wind farms that will be installed in the North Sea in the years ahead.
”For decades, we have been building up major competences in offshore activities in the area around Esbjerg, and in recent years we have started to transfer some of the competences from oil and gas to the offshore wind industry,” says Steen Brødbæk, managing director of Semco Maritime. The company is headquartered in Esbjerg and is one of Europe’s leading offshore firms with activities worldwide.
Challenges at sea
Traditional offshore companies gain advantage from the fact that there are many similarities between the technologies and skills applied in the offshore oil & gas industry, and the offshore wind industry.
”Both industries operate in the same marine environment, where stormy weather and the extreme saltiness of the air present particular challenges. There are also parallels in construction and maintenance, and similarities regarding electrical infrastructure. So it makes good sense to make the competences gained from oil and gas available to the offshore wind sector,” says Brødbæk.
According to consultancy firm MAKE Consulting, the opportunity to transfer competences from the oil and gas sector to the offshore wind sector can help put Danish companies in a strong position from the start. Danish wind turbine manufacturers and sub-suppliers also gain advantage from their experience and track record.
”There is strong growth in offshore wind, but it isn’t an area that everyone can go into. Companies that are already supplying the offshore sector and have experience in delivering components and systems for offshore wind have a crucial competitive advantage. If you don’t have the technological know-how and experience to draw on, it’s a major obstacle to getting into the market, even today,” says MAKE Consulting director Steen Broust Nielsen.
With only 3 GW of currently installed offshore wind power in Europe, another 30 GW needs to be installed by 2020 to meet planned targets. That increase will provide sufficient power to cover the electricity needs of at least 15 million households. And according to the European Wind Energy Association, the amount of installed wind power could rise to 150 GW by 2030. Massive investments will be required, that will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in Europe.
The North Sea is the world’s leading area for offshore wind, and is expected to maintain that position for some time to come. In the next 10 years alone, around 10,000 offshore wind turbines are planned for installation in the North Sea area, and Esbjerg is centrally placed in relation to Danish, British and German plans for expansion.
New Offshore Center
To further strengthen Denmark’s competences and special position in green offshore energy, a number of industry-leading offshore companies have formed a strategic alliance to establish the Green Offshore Center in Esbjerg.
The aim is to create an international beacon of knowledge and innovation in planning and design, installation, operation and maintenance of offshore energy facilities. Besides offshore wind, the center will also be involved in wave power and other forms of energy derived from the sea that could make a commercial breakthrough in the coming decades.
”Offshore wind is undergoing a rapid process of industrialisation, which will result in strongly increasing specialisation throughout the value chain. The new center will not only be a showroom for Danish know-how in the area, but will also help ensure that Danish competences, through increased cooperation between the companies, will be developed and applied on local markets, and thereafter on the global market,” says Brødbæk, who is a member of the Green Offshore Center steering committee.
12 companies are currently involved in the plans for the center, among them Denmark’s leading energy company DONG Energy, which has installed five of the world’s ten largest offshore wind farms, and shipping company Blue Water which has been a major player in the offshore industry for many years. The initial aim is to gain 40 member companies.