A scarcity of heavy lift vessels capable of installing new generation giant components is predicted to peak in 2026/7. Offshore wind developers working with vessel companies to build vessels for a pipeline of projects would solve a growing industry problem.

Jennie Morgan, pursuit manager at Seaway7, installers of turbine foundations and cables, said it was no longer feasible for businesses to invest in building multi-million-pound installation vessels on predictions and speculation that could leave them outdated after one project.

“New build vessels that can install new generation foundations must be planned and constructed in collaboration with developers, for a portfolio of installation projects, to remove the enormous risks contractors face, or these vessels will not get built. Our supply chain doesn’t have the resources to build on speculation,” she said.

“For vessel companies, it is about operating costs, construction costs and what do you do with a vessel once it is obsolete for construction? It just doesn’t make business sense to build a vessel without a clear design basis and portfolio of future projects for it to work on.

“It is not sustainable and makes no sense in what we are all working to achieve.”

With turbine capacity pushed to 15MW, and the industry hoping for 20-24 MW models, the strains on the components had not been fully recognised, she said.

“The industry business models have been driven by the generators, but everything must be designed to support that. They can’t be developed in isolation without considering how they interact with other aspects of an offshore wind farm – the design of the foundations, how all the components will be installed and work together, and how they will be maintained.

“A vessel can take a minimum of three years to build, designed to install currently predicted foundation sizes with redundancy. When the vessel is delivered we have to be certain that, even if generators get bigger and foundation size increases, it is able to work to it’s full potential throughout it’s life.

“There is an increasingly limited supply of vessels capable of installing these foundations, a limited number of experienced contractors that do it, and a lot of projects that will need them.”

At the current rate of component size escalation across the global project pipeline, developers could be left with a limited source of installation vessels by 2027 that 
are already working elsewhere in the world. Project deadlines will have to move or designs will have to change.

Component development needs to pause, and standardisation introduced, said Jennie.

Renewables could look to oil and gas for lessons on engineering foundations for giant sea structures. 

“Seaway7’s parent company, Subsea7, has a long history of complex engineering in oil and gas. This experience has served us well in renewables, where we have successfully delivered some of the largest and most innovative EPCI projects including the world’s deepest offshore wind structures on Seagreen. 

“We must look at new techniques, different joints and installing in different ways. There is experience and knowledge in oil and gas we should be exploiting. By combining that with the specific requirements of renewables projects, where we are installing structures at far greater volumes, we can harvest the full potential of offshore wind.” 

Seaway7’s new heavy lift crane installation vessel, Seaway Alfa Lift, and self-propelled jack-up installation vessel Seaway Ventus are due to join its fleet this year.