Interview with Acteon CCO Barry Parsons
Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities of Floating Wind with Acteon CCO Barry Parsons
While the fixed bottom offshore wind dominates today, in the not-too-distant future floating wind will be the answer to efficient and voluminous renewable offshore wind power. Acteon CCO Barry Parsons discusses the technologies being developed and the planning being put in place so that his company can capitalize on this fast-growing market.
By Greg Trauthwein
“This is not a small, kind of, maybe thing; this is big, it’s global and it’s happening right now.”
Barry Parsons is succinct in his summation of floating offshore wind, an renewable solution that is widely touted to be the future of offshore wind energy, premised on the flexibility to move the turbines further offshore to deeper waters where an estimated 80% of the wind power potential resides.
As with any market promise, there is also peril, and in his recent interview with Offshore Engineer TV Parsons is quick to discuss not only the market potential but the hurdles that will need to be cleared to fully realize this potential. But make no mistake, Parsons and his Acteon team are bullish on the future of floating wind, with the organization offering an enviable breadth and depth of offshore engineering experience and technologies to efficiently, effectively build and service offshore floating wind fields globally, cradle to grave.
What we do at Acteon is sector agnostic. At the end of the day, we're providing services for marine infrastructure. If there happens to be a wind turbine, or an oil and gas production platform, or a fish farm, or some sort of technology that you and I haven't even dreamt of yet at the top of that infrastructure, it doesn't fundamentally change the solution that we're providing. Barry Parsons, Chief Commercial Officer, Acteon Group
Acteon Group: By the Numbers
The $700m Acteon Group has a global footprint, with 2,200 employees staffing 104 locations in 21 countries. Most of its engineered solutions were born in offshore oil and gas, with many of its technologies having ready applications in the burgeoning offshore wind sector, too. Set up across three operating divisions – Data and Robotics; Engineering, Moorings and Foundations; and Energy Services – Parsons said “The connecting DNA is that we provide services to assess, design, build, install, inspect, maintain and remove marine infrastructure.”
That installed base is centered on offshore oil and gas, but it is changing. Today, 25% of Acteon Group’s business is outside of oil and gas – predominately focused on offshore wind – “and at last count, the offshore wind installations are growing at around 22-25% annually,” said Parsons.
To date Acteon has installed approximately 2,500 offshore wind turbine foundations; it has supported approximately 1500 additional mooring spreads offshore, as well as approximately 800 drilling campaigns and more than 300 decommissioning projects.
While many companies born in the oil and gas industry face challenges in leveraging that experience, engineering and technologies to offshore wind, Parsons contends that it is here that Acteon has the edge.
“What we do at Acteon is sector agnostic,” he said. At the end of the day, we're providing services for marine infrastructure. If there happens to be a wind turbine, or an oil and gas production platform, or a fish farm, or some sort of technology that you and I haven't even dreamt of yet at the top of that infrastructure, it doesn't fundamentally change the solution that we're providing.”
Hurdles to Leap
Despite the promise, in offshore wind – both fixed and floating – there remain technical and logistics hurdles to clear.
“If you think about a typical oil and gas project, the focus is getting it right and keeping everybody safe,” said Parsons. “In offshore wind, the safety focus is the same, but we're not installing one of something; we're installing dozens, or sometimes hundreds of something. So that notion of cycle time and repeat and efficiency, it gets a focus that really drives the commercial value in offshore wind that's a little different from oil and gas.”
As the size of the projects and the individual wind turbines grow, so too do the technical challenges. Acteon Group is working diligently to leverage its considerable oil and gas experience – and working to develop new technologies – to create and refine solutions that are still many years away from commercial installation.
“A couple of technological challenges spring to mind,” said Parsons. “In fixed bottom wind, for years, all the monopiles that have been driven are eight meters or less in diameter. Now, we're talking about 12-, maybe 14-meter diameter monopiles. Developing a technology to be able to install those doesn't exist right now, so we're working on that.”
In floating wind, the focus is on cost-effective anchors, specifically the challenge of taking an anchor solution that is proven in offshore oil and gas but getting that system at a suitable cost for floating “is going to take a lot of work.”
And whether the solution is fixed or floating, a critical element is fully understanding the seabed conditions. “As we continue to find more and more challenging soil conditions in installing offshore wind farms, finding faster, more reliable ways to obtain the geotechnical samples that we need is an increasing area of focus and something that we've been working on for the last couple years.”
Parsons said that Acteon has two specific developments underway right now – one that has been granted a patent, the other one patent-pending – developments focused on “providing tension in those mooring legs for offshore wind installations that don't require another big expensive vessel and a lot of expensive equipment left in the water. These mooring installations are effectively going to be permanent, operating for decades, so reducing the value of the equipment in the water is really important.”
In step is another perpetual challenge: carbon footprint reduction. To this end, Acteon is engaged in several technology automation development programs, the first aimed at reducing the number of large, costly, crewed vessels at sea. “We're testing some autonomous surface vessels that let us do twice as much data acquisition for half of the carbon footprint. We’re also “commercializing the next generation of our seabed drilling and sampling robot, called PROD5, to increase productivity and cut costs for offshore renewables.”
Finally, he sees the issue of variability in designs that could slow the floating wind roll out. “There's somewhere [in the neighborhood of] 80 different competing floating hull designs,” said Parsons. “I think standardizing to some degree, at least by market, is going to drive a tremendous amount of value.”
Floating Wind’s Future is Now
There has been much focus on the emerging floating wind market of late. According to Philip Lewis, Director of Research, Intelatus, there are tens of GW of floating wind projects slated for development through the 2030s, including these widely discussed projects:
The U.K. is forging ahead with commercial scale floating wind developments through the Scotwind and INTOG awards of at least 24 gigawatts (GW) of floating wind capacity representing close to 1,500 floating turbines that will come on stream through 2030.
4 GW of capacity through the Celtic Sea floating wind auctions.
The U.S. has awarded floating wind leases with a potential of more than 8 GW of capacity in the Pacific and will move ahead with large floating wind leases in the Atlantic this year.
Norway is planning to award 1.5 GW of floating wind capacity at Utsira Nord this year and France is targeting bring 750 megawatts (MW) of floating turbines on stream at the end of the decade in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Spain and Portugal announced multi-gigawatt floating wind aspirations.
In Asia Pacific, despite permitting hurdles, the prize is more than 8 GW of floating project potential, mostly off the east coast Usan region. Australia and Japan are also the subject of much interest.
The list of offshore floating wind is long and growing, and the allure of floating wind is the ability to place the units further from land in deeper water, providing access to stronger, more reliable wind sources that house an estimated 80% of offshore wind resources. Another attraction to deeper waters further from shore is the availability of offshore real estate with fewer competitors and conflicts.
“Clearly, offshore power generation is not the only use of offshore real estate,” said Parsons. “We're competing with the fishing industry and transportation, as well as protected environmental areas. All that complexity increases as you approach the coast on the continental shelf.”
While projections generously indicate an uptick in the offshore floating wind in 2026/27 and beyond, Parsons is keen to point out that the technology development conversations are already being conducted at pace. “We have commercial agreements in place for floating wind projects in Korea, the UK, the United States, France, Norway and Italy. This is big, it's global, and it's happening right now. And I think maybe some people if I can be blunt, are asleep at the switch. [To be clear], this is today's problem. The installation's going to happen tomorrow but figuring out how we're going to do that is happening right now.”
Projecting ‘where and when’ is a conundrum facing many companies in the space, and while Parsons was reluctant to pick the frontrunners, he said: “In terms of a commercial scale project, I have a feeling that South Korea is going to be first,” said Parsons. “Number two gets confusing: the UK probably; the US possibly.”
Logistics, Logistics, Logistics
As the size of turbines and projects grow for both fixed and floating offshore wind, the challenges within are not limited solely to technical solutions. The size and volume of components and systems that need to come together seamlessly required a well-planned supply and logistics chain, as quayside facilities – themselves in evolution to handle the traffic – are going to be at a premium.
“That complex logistics and supply chain challenge is going to be significant,” said Parsons. “And [Acteon] has a substantial track record over the decades of managing reasonably complex logistics and supply chain ourselves.”
Specifically for floating wind, the mooring system is where a lot of the value, complexity and cost is tied up. Here, Parsons sees the breadth of the Acteon Group offers as a substantial competitive advantage in helping players – new and old – navigate the process.
“Within Acteon, with our stable services, we can connect the geophysical survey to select the geotechnical points of interest, acquire those samples, do that analysis and recommend the right mooring system, the right anchor solution for the best performance and cost for the project,” said Parsons. Today Acteon has two agreements with offshore wind farm developers “of some note” to take established, tried-and-true mooring systems that were developed by Acteon for oil and gas, and to tailor them for a specific floating wind requirement.
Parsons said he is “really encouraged” to see that there has been a lot of early engagement on floating wind with the developers. “They keenly recognize the technical challenges, as well as the cost challenges that this industry is up against,” said Parsons, “and getting up that curve is going to determine the winners and the losers in this space.”
In fact, he said that one floating project customer in the UK highlights the trend.
“Typically, customers would procure the geophysical survey first, then they acquire the geotechnical service, and we go out and take samples,” said Parsons. “This customer's done it differently. They've engaged us early enough that we're going to deploy both. So, the geophysical does the initial acquisition, we select the geotechnical acquisition sites and acquire those samples, and then we cycle, and we're back in the field with geophysical. The whole idea is to drive efficiency.”
Think Global, Act Local
The promise of offshore wind is usually wrapped up in the renewable energy/decarbonization discussion that dominates many industries today, but for Acteon and its brethren in the sector, it is a genuine business opportunity. Barry Parsons, CCO, Acteon Group, put the challenge and opportunity in perspective, with insight on how Acteon’s next-generation technology development today can help.
“We already mentioned it, but the notion of supply chain complexity, particularly at the scale, is a challenge.”
He said Acteon is engaged in discussions with one client that has a floating wind project with 200 turbines. “If you figure 200 turbines, with four mooring legs per turbine, you’re talking about 800 anchors in a single project installed over a few seasons,” said Parsons.” That's years and years of anchor installations for oil and gas, and we're going to do this in one project. Just think about the amount of chain and anchors, and never mind all the hulls at quayside, and the complexity of managing it all; it's going to be enormous.”
This challenge brings opportunity, particularly with the global spread of projects. While traditionally the equipment for the project would be manufactured far from the project and shipped in, “I think, driven in part by our regulators, but also in part by practical economics, it's going to make a lot of sense to fabricate more of this equipment closer to where the project is being installed,” said Parsons. “This generates a lot of local value in the local community. This is not terribly complicated to fabricate, but there's a lot of it. So doing it locally is a real opportunity.”