US Offshore Wind: Our Interconnected Future

It will take a team effort that spans sectors and even industries to meet the United States’ goal of 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

By Greg Lennon, ABS Vice President, Global Offshore Wind

© Cavan / Adobe Stock

As the United States offshore wind (OSW) industry considers the Biden-Harris Administration’s 30 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 goal, it’s easy to be struck by the monumental scope of the task ahead. From constructing enough installations before the aggressive deadline to the myriad support vessels needed to achieve these goals, our industry faces a substantial and complex challenge.

Accomplishing this extraordinary mission will take a team effort that spans sectors and even industries. To rise to the challenge, industry leaders need to recognize our interconnected roles in the supply chain and bring our collective years of experience together to deliver the individual components that make up an offshore wind project.

Helping lead the charge into this endeavor, we at the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) have earned our place as a trusted advisor to the OSW industry. We have 160 years of experience in the maritime industry with more than 70 years focused in the offshore sector. We have been at the forefront of supporting OSW from the budding industry’s start.

ABS certified the first semisubmersible offshore wind turbine, classed the world’s largest wind floating turbine and classed the world’s largest floating offshore windfarm when installed. We have also participated in government research projects for offshore wind, as well as participated in industry committees on the formulation of global standards for offshore wind platforms’ design and fabrication standards.

To drive home the scope of the challenge ahead, consider the sheer size of current and future OSW installations. Turbines can stretch as high if not taller than the monolithic 555-foot Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. — and that is only the height of the tower above water. For fixed installations, monopiles and jacket foundations can stretch even deeper to the ocean floor.

With one GW under operation or under construction, the industry needs to install 2,100 estimated number of turbines to generate 29 additional GWs to meet the U.S. government’s 30 GW by 2030 goal. Just how many? Our industry needs to install about nine 14-megawatt (MW) sized turbines per week during installation season every year starting in 2023 through 2030. On a global scale, the Global Wind Energy Alliance set a goal of 380 GWs by 2030 at COP27, which will necessitate more than 27,000 14 MW turbines.

Looking at the challenge ahead, it’s clear that a substantial fleet of support vessels will be essential to meeting both U.S. and global OSW goals.

In addition to supporting the OSW industry with certification and class of project installations, ABS provides classification services for a range of specialized vessels. These include wind turbine installation vessels (WTIV) and transport vessels, service operation vessels (SOV), cable laying vessels and crew transfer vessels (CTV). We have classed several U.S. Jones Act-compliant OSW support vessels as well some of the largest and most advanced support vessels around the world.

As a result, we have a clear view of what’s needed for the various sectors in the OSW industry to work together and meet GW goals.

With current technology, a typical WTIV capable of lifting towers and nacelles can install an average of two turbines a week. Remember that we need to install nine turbines per week during installation season every year, so 4 to 5 WTIVs must be dedicated to the task in the U.S. alone to keep pace for 2030. Yet only 15 WTIVs capable of the heavy lifting needed to install 14 MW turbines exist globally. What’s more, the industry will also need substantially more cable and rock laying vessels to support construction.

To underscore the challenge further, clean energy transitions in the marine and offshore industries are happening in parallel with the global effort that is driving the need for so many OSW installations.

New specialized vessels for the OSW industry could be propelled by electricity or low- or zero-emission fuels like methanol and hydrogen. Just as OSW aims to support onshore energy transitions, it can also be used to power green hydrogen production or charge batteries for the very vessels constructing additional installations.

Other sustainability initiatives like green shipping corridors, hydrogen hubs and C40 cities are also closely intertwined with the OSW industry and business cases are increasing for the co-location of greener infrastructure systems around OSW projects and ports. Consider that while many near-term OSW installations might be constructed with a diesel-powered fleet, such turbines will serve an essential foundation for the future of clean energy for onshore and offshore uses.

The growth of OSW installations, once a cornerstone of green energy and the fight against climate change, has also morphed into a key component of energy security. In the first six months of 2022, 24 percent of U.S. utility-scale electricity generation came from renewable sources, based on data from U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Electric Power Monthly. For many countries including the U.S., the potential for local and secure energy lies just off our coasts.

Because of the complex relationships between the OSW industry, the plethora of energy transitions in other industries and the push for energy security, it’s clear that a holistic view and a multi-pronged effort are needed to tackle the challenges ahead.

ABS has been involved in the creation of standards, rules and guides for the maritime industries for more than 160 years and has served as a guiding light for the OSW industry in its relative infancy. To support the industry as we look toward the coming surge, we recently hosted our third annual Offshore Wind Forum, bringing experts from industry leaders like Crowley, Clarksons, Otto Candies, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, Shell, Vestas, Hornbeck Offshore Services and Edison Chouest to discuss the challenges.

ABS is also supporting the supply chain beyond turbines and support vessels by researching new guides focused on floating substations, charging buoys and ever-taller cranes — all critical pieces in the design, installation and operation of the OSW installation of the future.

As we move toward the ambitious 30 GW by 2030 target, it is important to work together across organizations and sectors to enable a successful mission. It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. I might add that it’s the challenges we face that present us with an opportunity to collaborate and innovate for a better future

About the Author:

Greg Lennon

Greg Lennon, ABS Vice President, Global Offshore Wind, has more than 20 years’ energy industry experience with Fortune 500 and global energy companies. He currently leads global strategic planning and client development for the offshore wind division at ABS.

January 2023