Sustainable development and the energy transition is at the top of the international agenda this year. Offshore wind’s recent acceleration – thanks in part to the reduction of the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE) – has meant that offshore wind farms, in Europe in particular, are now competitive with other energy sources.
Earlier this year the International Energy Agency (IEA) produced the world’s first comprehensive energy roadmap showing that offshore wind can play a key role in reaching net zero and at the same time create millions of jobs, stimulating economic growth.
Ambitious targets were also introduced, with the IEA announcing that offshore wind should be installed at a rate of 80GW per year by 2030. Today, the total installed capacity of offshore wind globally is 30GW. That means that nine years from now, we need to have installed nearly three times as much offshore wind as we have today.
Offshore wind around Europe is booming, but if we are to meet these targets our industry must look beyond the North Sea and take on the challenge of developing sites in much trickier waters. Enabling technologies are key – we must ensure that we are innovating new technology that allows us to build lighter, more adaptable, cost effective and efficient structures.
We need to scale up…but more efficiently
It is possible for our industry to look straight towards developing more renewable technology to meet these goals, but by doing so, it misses the opportunity to consider enabling technologies which would allow the transition to happen faster.
If we want to scale up, instead of only looking at how many assets we can develop, we should also be questioning how we can most efficiently design the structures to reduce the amount of time and materials required to do so – and that requires enabling technology.
New environments call for new ideas
With offshore wind reaching into new markets across the world, the associated costs are expected to continue to fall, which will allow for greater development and subsequent production of energy.
In the not-too-distant future, we will need to deploy offshore wind in areas with new challenging conditions, from typhoons and seismic areas in East Asia, to deep and hurricane conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. New codes and standards will also need to be navigated, as well as producing turbines that are capable of withstanding these new environments and operating at their most efficient.
Innovation must lead the way
The IEA estimates that 50% of the technology needed for net-zero is not yet deployed. However, the offshore wind industry has become complacent with growth, and the barriers to innovation have never been higher. We need bolder, more nimble investors and technology pioneers to drive the innovation required, and focus on innovations that can bring speed and efficiency to the industry.
There is extensive technology across the industry which can accelerate deployment, decrease risk and build investor confidence. From Vertical axis, to 3D printing of turbines as shown by the US Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office and Advanced Manufacturing Office, and robots for blade inspection like the BladeBug, innovation is all around. By simulating wind farms before they are built, developers can look at the exact current condition, giving investors assurance that their assets are performing as expected. Simulation also allows continual monitoring of the health of assets to keep them performing at their highest point.
Akselos’ digital twin technology is allowing the world’s largest renewable structures to be simulated and designed more efficiently by using a combination of AI and traditional physics-based approaches to computational modelling. Akselos and Lamprell recently proved that use of this predictive digital twin technology can reduce the steel weight and associated costs of offshore wind jacket foundations by up to 30%.
With enabling technology such as this within our grasp, we should be opening up the conversation with industry and government to consider how we use data and modelling to increase the efficiency of the structures we develop. With COP and the WEF Sustainable Impact Development Summit in the next few months, now is the time to open up this conversation and continue the dialogue to create meaningful change and reach net-zero targets as soon as possible.
Dylan Mitchell, Director of Wind and New Energy at Akselos