The Big Question: What Opportunities Exist for Technology Transfer from Offshore Oil and Gas to the Offshore Wind Industry?

According to the American Oil and Gas Historical Society, the U.S. offshore oil and natural gas industry began in the Pacific Ocean more than 100 years ago. The organization said that it wasn’t until 1947 that a company attempted to drill outside the sight of land. Today, the burgeoning U.S. offshore wind industry is just getting started with a small project off the coast of Rhode Island. Dong Energy, an experienced offshore wind developer in North-western Europe, in February agreed to take over a lease that could potentially lead to more than 1 GW of offshore wind energy capacity off the Atlantic coast. 

Image: Keystone delivered small light, jacket structures that could be lifted from a ship to be installed in place rather than barged or floated in place for Block Island wind project. Credit: Keystone Engineering.

The parallels between offshore oil and wind are plenty. Each technology requires anchoring heavy equipment to the seabed or figuring out how to stabilize it through flotation. Each relies on cabling or piping to transport the product. Each needs specialized vessels equipped to transport people and supplies to locations far out to sea. Additional similarities include permitting, environmental concerns, dealing with opposition and many more.

We will update the responses below daily to give you insight on The Big Question: What Opportunities Exist for Technology Transfer from Offshore Oil and Gas To the Offshore Wind Industry? 

Lend your own voice to the discussion in the comment section below.

Jendrik Odenwald, Owner, General Manager & Marine Surveyor, Brager Solutions

offshore windWe have been observing the German offshore wind industry since 2009 when the projects got bigger and were springing up like mushrooms due to high financial incentives they received. The dynamic lead to the fact — as we noticed — that the whole industry basically started from scratch. Offshore wind farm operating companies were set up by German Energy supplying companies from nothing. The development and construction of wind turbines and the building of wind farms was so highly specialized and specifically engineered that there was no use for existing vessels or equipment from the oil and gas industry.

The German government’s regulations, decisions and money flow pushed the offshore wind industry into a vacuum that created an urgent need for knowledge, people and vessels and the capacities are there to supply the market sufficiently.

With the current oil and gas crisis it will be interesting to see whether and how oil and gas vessel operators will move into the wind market to compensate for their decreased revenues and how the offshore wind industry will react. This could potentially bring about the first stress test for the most highly financed wind vessel operators.

Doug Friday, Chief Executive Officer, Expede

offshore windProbably the most obvious response to this question is the undertaking of offshore vessel operations and seabed engineering.  Indeed, much can be learned from the many years of building offshore structures, from the development of engineering standards for seabed stability and seismic activity through to offshore vessel logistics and installation methodologies. The oil and gas industry does however have far more to offer. As energy practitioners, it is our responsibility to look at the total lifecycle of our energy solution and to ensure that we are applying the most efficient and effective method of development. Looking beyond the issue of fossil fuels we should look to adopt the best practices of our longstanding energy forbears.

Although learnings from installation and engineering methods bring value, the greatest contribution the oil and gas sector can make to with offshore wind industry is a highly evolved integrated strategy towards energy developments.  From approaches for risk management, project execution methodologies through to the management of personnel safety and the environment.  Over the course of many years, the industry has developed a highly effective approach to overall system development.  The offshore wind industry should adapt this approach to its needs to produce a more efficient project with high safety standards and low local environmental impact.

David Currie, CEO, JDR and Member of the Offshore Wind Energy Council

offshore windWe believe the oil and gas sector has a significant amount to offer the offshore wind industry — not just in terms of technology transfer, but knowledge transfer too.

Since its inception, the oil and gas sector has continually pushed the boundaries with regards to design and engineering, and today operates to the highest standards of health, safety and quality.

At JDR, we’ve found that many of the lessons we’ve learned from solving technical challenges related to operating in the world’s harshest and most remote environments are equally applicable to offshore wind. As a result, we’ve been able to apply our experience in designing, engineering and manufacturing subsea cables and umbilicals for the global oil and gas industry, to develop pioneering solutions for renewables customers, while retaining our proven design and technical reliability.

However, technology and knowledge transfer go both ways and in today’s low oil price environment, we believe that opportunities also exist for the renewables sector to share best practices and lessons learned – particularly around cost reduction and operational efficiency.

Benj Sykes, Head of Asset Management and UK Country Manager for Offshore Wind, DONG Energy

offshore windInstallation techniques, personnel transfer, risk management and of course safety, are all areas where companies can use their oil and gas experience for the benefit of offshore wind operations. And as companies build experience in installing and operating offshore wind farms, there is now technology transfer back to oil and gas, not least as a result of the innovation that has been driven by the need to reduce the cost of electricity from offshore wind as the sector matures.

DONG Energy’s roots can be found elsewhere in the energy sector with its history established in managing oil and gas resources in the Danish sector of the North Sea, providing many years of experience in working offshore. This heritage of working out at sea in some of the most challenging and inhospitable conditions has been key to the growth of the company’s offshore wind business, with knowledge, insight and expertise that my firm has accumulated over decades applied to this new growing industry.

Jo Shailes, Vice President of Marketing, Trelleborg Offshore

offshore windThe offshore oil industry can bring four main lessons to the offshore wind industry. First, proven technologies and experience from offshore applications should be considered and tailored for offshore wind applications. Secondly, safety and compliance levels should be matched at the forefront of all design, manufacturing and installations. Third, as is the case with oil, never stop innovating and finding new ways to push the boundaries. And finally, the best solution is achieved when suppliers’ and customers’ engineers work shoulder-to-shoulder.

We find that proven expertise and a passion for innovative polymer engineering in the offshore oil and gas sector accelerates performance for our customers in renewables.

Ben Foley, General Manager, Renewables, Keystone Engineering

offshore windSkilled engineers can transfer their knowledge of post-design fabrication and installation engineering for the oil and gas sector to the design of offshore wind foundations.

For example, our firm leveraged its extensive offshore engineering knowledge to design the substructures for the Block Island Wind Farm (the first offshore wind farm in the U.S.) by adapting the steel jacket foundations used in the oil and gas industry as the design-basis for the deep-water wind turbine support structures.  We used offshore engineering software to deliver an alternative to typical offshore wind monopile foundations that are limited to shallower water depths and smaller wind turbine generators and incorporated load models from the turbine generator designer to optimize the design of the total structure and ensure safe operation under a wide range of weather conditions, including tropical systems. The resulting foundation is designed to withstand the 100-year hurricane and checked for robustness against the 1,000-year hurricane. The foundation requires less steel than a comparable foundation and can operate in a much wider weather window commonly found far off the Northeast coast of the United States.

Parvinder Jhita, Senior Product Manager, Offshore, Bentley Systems

offshore windDesign and analysis software can support both the offshore oil and gas and wind farm industries enabling engineers to model any type of offshore structural system and provide optimal design against environmental loads, such as waves, wind, and current in addition to mechanical loads from wind turbines. Engineers can use software to explore the effects of fatigue, ship impact loads, transportation, and installation and use it to provide options for safe, cost-effective solutions that potentially can save many hours of design time.

Design and analysis software, such as Bentley’s SACs can be integrated with well-established turbine manufacturer simulation software for a fully coupled analysis. This integration allows users to accurately simulate the loads on a wind turbine platform structure and enables engineers to optimize these steel structures for cost, installation weight, and strength.

James Ritchie, Chief Operating Officer, Tekmar Energy

offshore windMany, if done right and by respecting the differences between both markets as each offer unique challenges and opportunity. Oil & gas has always driven a quality and HSE demand first, which offshore wind regrettably lacked in the early years. Thankfully, this has changed through learning vital lessons from oil & gas while still pushing innovation to achieve cost reduction. 

There was a legacy of the oil and gas influence where thoughts of cable protection were of secondary importance. This may have been understandable when the oil pipeline itself took precedence but in offshore wind, the power cable’s integrity is paramount.

As the offshore wind industry continues to look at ways of reducing costs and inefficiencies, developers are increasingly realising the benefits of bringing in the cable protection supplier at an earlier date.

Closer engagement at the start minimizes installation times by enabling the most effective techniques to be picked rather than working around the sole method available for the job. Involvement in the foundation design stages means we can fully optimise the protection system’s design and make innovations which eliminate the need to use a steel J-tube.

This approach can lead to savings in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars for each turbine installed while the importance of these subsea cables to windfarms has led to advancements in protection systems that are now bringing benefits beyond offshore wind.

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