Developing offshore wind farms is clearly for the big guys, so what’s in it for entrepreneurs? With high CAPEX, high risk in the installation phase and then high APEX, this is not for your friendly neighborhood developer. This is still an early stage industry, with high costs and suboptimal technology, but the need and the value propositions are clearly there, and the EU just poured EUR 500m into it.
Allan Jespersen, Sr Sales Manager at Vestas Offshore, detailed to me the constraints to erecting an offshore farm and they are quite daunting. The North Sea being today the main market, Vestas is almost at home. But even then the rough conditions in which the turbines are operated (stronger winds, corrosion), the difficulty to access and the distance from the grid make quite a combination of challenges.
Other experts explained to me how, early on, onshore turbines were “marinized” and installed offshore. But more and more specific technology used. The next big market is probably the Baltic Sea. But when China and the US get serious about it, then it will be different weather conditions all over again. Hence for offshore, this is the beginning of the beginning.
Access is another big issue. Getting the maintenance crew onto a turbine far at sea is expensive and difficult. Offshore Solutions has engineered a innovative instrument for them to “walk to work”: a stabilized bridge between the ship and the mast. Cheaper and greener than flying everyone by helicopter.
But with just a few of their products out there, that is one example of the many bottlenecks: installation vessels, cables, skills… And since good weather windows are limited, you would really want to fully take advantage of them instead of waiting for that resource to become available.
But offshore wind can also be a great catalyst for the integration of the European transmission grid. Indeed, it makes sense to connect the farms to all the surrounding countries. The Supergrid,a concept championed by Mainstream Renewable Power, would connect the national grids using HVDC, generating efficiencies and favoring the penetration of all kinds of renewable energy.
Even though you’d have to work with industry Goliaths, there are quite a few entrepreneurial opportunities in taking advantage of the gaps. Servicing the developers and supplying adequate technology could make you successful.
Offshore and HVDC in the Mediterranean Sea are also a first step in integrating the non-EU mediterranean countries to the continental grid… I’ll talk more about this in the next post.