Offshore renewable energy—composed of offshore wind and solar and ocean energy technologies—presents huge potential for additional global capacity. With its clear synergies with the [offshore] oil and gas industry, opportunities for technology and skillset transfers are also strong accelerators of its growth.
Offshore wind energy is a large subset of offshore renewable energy and offers tremendous potential for capacity generation given that turbines situated in remote locations, such as offshore, can deliver capacities of 3-5MW compared to MW of onshore turbines (IRENA, n.d.).
As such, we invited Danielle Veldman, Customer Relations Manager of Netherlands Wind Energy Association (NWEA), to share her insights on key issues surrounding the development of offshore wind energy in the Netherlands and Europe in general.
Danielle has almost 25 years of experience in the international contracting business, focusing on marketing & business development for maritime and offshore works. She joined NWEA in 2018 as CRM Manager predominantly focused on facilitating supply chain companies to enter into the wind industry. Especially for companies with an international offshore track record, Danielle expanded NWEA’s international activities to enhance exposure and reinforce international networks for the Dutch wind industry. She also coordinates the wind & water works brand that was developed in cooperation with the government (RVO) and three partner trade organisations with the aim to reach international target groups in the wind sector. Daniëlle, together with her NWEA colleagues, represents the wind sector on both national and international level, in public and private initiatives.
Read her insights below.
Wind energy undoubtedly presents huge potential to accelerate the energy transition. What are the challenges and opportunities surrounding the development of wind energy as one of the primary energy sources?
In discussing challenges and opportunities for offshore wind, as in any other renewable energy source, the most important thing is alignment: alignment between the supply and demand, as well as the alignment between policy and execution. There are many things going on in the entire offshore wind industry, but we have to focus on making these connections work.
For instance, looking at the industry, there is a need to make sure that the electrification of the energy industry is pushed. On the supply side, we know how to deliver energy: the supply chain is there, we know how to build wind farms, the basic frameworks are there, etc. We have the energy supply, but if the demand is not properly aligned with the supply, it is really hard to achieve a sustainable system change.
And this is one of our focus areas now—that we not only look at our industry, but the entire system to see how wind energy will be used and to guarantee that there is sufficient demand. We recently started an initiative called “Wind Meets Industry” and that is focused on having a constant dialogue between wind energy stakeholders and industrial parties (i.e. steel, chemical industries) to align the supply and demand.
On the policy and execution side, we have to make sure that conditions are right to realise the ambitions we set: that the turbines and cables are available, that there are sufficient vessels to build wind turbines offshore, etc. All the supply chain issues are very important. There is a need for us to look at not just our ambitions and a stable timeframe to realise them, but also those that are parts of the supply chain system. We should not be working in separate bubbles.
So overall, we should talk about plans, objectives and funding, but we also need to look at constructibility—whether we can execute everything in a realistic way. And this should be the case not just in the Netherlands, but also in Europe and globally.
And now that we are faced with a war in Ukraine, which changes the global energy market dynamics as well as the perception towards energy supply security, this may give a renewed push towards renewables. Still, the question remains: how can we realise our renewable energy plans within the timeframe set?
Nevertheless, we are sure that offshore wind energy is the main enabler for the energy transition. And to realise its full potential, all stakeholders should align their plans. We should avoid that there would be competition between projects, or even countries, on resources, especially now that capacities are scarce.
Which industries are relevant to the development of wind energy? Is repurposing of assets of conventional industries possible?
Within the wind industry, many of the assets that we have from the oil and gas industry, such as marine equipment, can be used. Many of the vessels can be used. As far as the supply chain is concerned, there is a suite of companies already in a position to make the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy. With the knowledge and experience they have, they can easily use the expertise to apply to the renewables sector. So, in many cases, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The oil and gas industry is quite mature, and since the offshore wind industry is still building up, we can learn and benefit from their experiences.
Other industries we can look at are the usual suspects that may have worked within the maritime and energy sector before: finance industry, consultancy companies assisting firms in the pre-development phase, certification bodies, logistics and recruitment agencies and so on.
On repurposing of assets of conventional industries: yes, it is really possible for offshore wind energy. Apart from facilities, you can also take stock of the available soft skills used in the conventional industries such as expertise on health, safety and environment awareness, among others.
Building a robust supply chain to support wind energy development is a challenge given the size of materials, location of wind farms and lack of demand certainty. What do you think should be done by the government (i.e. government support, easing of regulations) to address the vulnerabilities and encourage investments in the wind energy supply chain?
In the Netherlands, the government has developed a solid system to give wind energy a push. They implemented a system where they took responsibility for all the research and survey prior to installing the parts, and provided those data to the developers. The government also took the lead in connecting the wind farm to the shore, or the grid connection. So, by the time the bidder won the tender, they are automatically granted the permits and there is a certainty that it is connected to the grid. That really worked well. This government policy de-risked projects for the industry which got things rolling.
The supply chain also took the responsibility to reduce the cost for wind energy. The cost reduction in the past decade has been tremendous. We are at the stage now where cost has reached an acceptable level, and where we should have more focus on other improvements in the sector such as requirements to build wind farms in a nature-inclusive way. The most recent tender included qualitative demands with regard to environmental impact plus innovation to enhance nature while building wind farms.
However, at the same time, we are looking at a change in the tender system now in the Netherlands. It is now subsidy-free, which means there is no subsidy and no support for the developer about the revenues. Minimum revenue guaranteed by the government is no longer the case in the Netherlands.
In other countries, they have different systems and incentives to support stakeholders in this sector. That means that developers also choose to bid on projects on the basis of investment climate and specific tender requirements instigated by the government. For instance, some governments are offering contracts for difference where differences in contracted price are paid out. We are part of a bigger ecosystem, so we need to monitor the level-playing field to equalise unjustified competitive advantages. Close monitoring of other countries’ investment climate, public-private cooperation, and supporting mechanisms for the supply chain are all important.
The old saying is that “investment goes before the benefits”. That is also true for the wind sector. In the long term, the wind sector is not only about cost, but also about benefits and a strong supply chain for the wind energy sector brings economic activities and employment.
Labour requirements for full-blown development of renewables are daunting. What do you think are the necessary skill sets or additional education and training programs for the labour market to be aligned with plans to accelerate wind energy development?
The whole technical sector is suffering from a lack of personnel. We should realise that this wider problem of limited manpower with a STEM background will hurt our energy transition plans and goals. For starters, we should make the profession more attractive, and encourage young boys and girls to choose STEM as a career path.
Then, next to remuneration and labour conditions, to attract them to the wind sector, it is important to make them realise that they are contributing to a big new system. In particular, we need people who actually execute the jobs such as the technicians who do the operation and maintenance. Besides the people who talk, we definitely need those people who do.
The wind sector, and overall the renewable energy sector, still needs to develop. Some people claim that the wind energy sector is mature, but I do not agree, especially if you compare it to the conventional energy industry, which is in fact half a century ahead of us, but will gradually fade out. It is largely new for most people, a lot are still not familiar with the industry. Job security is there, but we also need to position the profession as something that gives a positive feeling that you contribute to the goal of making the world more sustainable.
Source: Wind Energy (n.d.). International Renewable Energy Association. Retrieved 27 May 2022 from https://irena.org/wind.