Wind energy is a key sector for offshore crane operators, as is subsea oil exploration. IC reports on two parts of the world making strides in these areas
There has been keen interest in wind energy from European countries, particularly Germany, for some time. Looking ahead, the UK, thanks to its island status, has considerable potential for growth, according to association Renewable UK. In the first half of 2010, it was responsible for half the newly installed European offshore wind farms.
Offshore lifting companies are taking advantage of this. One of them, A2SEA, has been awarded a contract by energy company Vattenfall to transport 30 5MW RePower turbines from Belfast Harbour, Northern Ireland to the 150 MW Ormonde Offshore wind farm. Covering an area of 8.7 square km, the wind farm is based 10 km off the coast of Barrow-in-Furness in the Irish Sea.
Recently, the DP2 heavy lift vessel Jumbo Javelin installed its 100th transition piece (TP) for the Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm (GGOWF), off the UK's south-east coast. The scope of work includes transport, installation, leveling and grouting for client Fluor. The work has been taking place over 3.5 months and there are another 30 TPs yet to be installed. The project will be completed in the second half of August 2010, well before the scheduled finish date, says Jumbo.
Another example of a UK project is the Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm, based off the Norfolk coast. Over the next nine months, the 1,500 tonne capacity heavy lift gantry crane vessel Svanen will install 89 foundations ready for the mounting of two substations and 88 wind turbines. The farm is scheduled to start operations in 2011 and will provide enough electricity to power 220,000 homes.
As well as crane vessels, mobile cranes are required for onshore preparation work and lifting duties offshore. The decision by private equity house Dunedin to invest in UK-based crawler crane specialist Weldex, will strengthen the company's expansion in offshore projects, among others.
Mark Ligertwood, who led the deal for Dunedin and joins the board of Weldex, says, "We have tracked the progress of this business for a considerable time and have been impressed at the way it has continued to grow through the recession by focusing on large, complex infrastructure projects and the offshore wind power industry. Weldex is extremely well positioned to play a vital role in the construction of new offshore wind capacity over the next 20 years."
The European Wind Energy Association's (EWEA) forecasts 10 GW of new wind power capacity will be installed throughout the European Union during 2010, taking total installed capacity to almost 85 GW, an increase of 13%. Total installed wind power capacity by the end of 2009 was 74.767 GW, a record year.
"We predict another strong year for wind turbine installations in Europe, repeating the high level achieved in 2009," says Christian Kjaer, CEO of EWEA. "What is encouraging is that, unlike in 2009, the 2010 results consist of orders placed after the start of the financial crisis. This shows continued and strong investor confidence in the technology.
"It is too early to say whether, for a third year running, there will be more wind energy capacity installed than any other electricity generating technology, but it is clear that wind energy will be competing for the top spot with new gas power plants," adds Kjaer.
Another rapidly growing sector in the offshore lifting market is subsea exploration, and since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blowout earlier this year, the Gulf of Mexico has been under the spotlight.
The April 22 blowout led to the USA's biggest oil spill which continued until July 15 when the leak was temporarily closed by a cap. Since then a massive clean up operation has been underway in an attempt to protect the environment.
Playing a mojor roles in this are offshore cranes, including those operated by maritime support services company T&T Marine Salvage. "Our crews have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist in the Gulf of Mexico cleanup effort," said Kevin Teichman, T&T vice-president. "We have flown in personnel and equipment from our response bases around the world for this ongoing project."
Equipment used in the clear up includes spill containment boom response vessels, skimming vessels, offshore offloading equipment, vacuum trucks, pumping systems and heavy machinery.
According to Latham, from Modulift, which supplies spreader systems for a range offshore lifting activities, subsea exploration and drilling is part of a continued effort to access untapped oil reserves.
"Oil exploration industries are having to look at less accessible areas, not just in the North Sea but worldwide. Much of the infrastructure for the production of these oil fields is being sited on the seabed," says Latham.
"To make these installations, all equipment that was previously used on the surface has now had to be developed to be used subsea to much more extreme depths - some up to 3,000 m. Subsequently, there is a greater demand for specialist engineering services for lifting projects that are pushing the boundaries of technology," adds Latham.
There is also a trend for bigger deck modules for FPSOs (floating production and storage offshore), which are significantly heavier and, for example, require larger capacity spreaders, says Latham. These modules are being specified at over 2,000 tonnes in weight and suitable lifting rigs are now being designed to install them over the next few years.
Modulift has supplied a number of subsea lifting beams and spreaders for a range of projects. "The key features of our designs include making the lifting device as lightweight as possible to minimise cost and handling, and ensuring that our products meet with DNV standards," says Latham.