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US offshore wind ambitions – 110 vessels and 2,100 turbines needed by 2030

Image: Maersk Supply Service Maersk Supply Service Beacon Wind Installation[16].jpg
As the calendar shifts to 2023, the US offshore wind mantra of ‘30 by 30’ - 30 gW by 2030 - will suddenly be one year closer to the catchy-sounding guidepost put out there by the Biden administration.

Aspirations and ambition are one thing, but along the waterfront, reality is infused with more than clever slogans. At the Marine Money 2022 Marine Finance Forum, held end November in New Orleans, Greg Lennon, Head of Global Offshore Wind at the Class society American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), provided some context- noting ABS’s deep involvement with boats serving the offshore oil business. He then provided an estimate of potential vessel demand to service offshore wind in the timeframe leading up to 2030; he pegged demand at 110 vessels, with an estimated price tag of some US$6.48bn.

To achieve the remaining 29 gW, beyond the projects now under development, Lennon suggested that 2,100 turbines would need to be installed- five per week for the rest of the decade, not considering the optimal weather timing. Within the Service Operation Vessel (SOV) sector, he put demand at 12 – 15 vessels, with two newbuild announcements so far, both from Edison Chouest, and two conversions announced by OSV stalwart Otto Candies.

The ABS slides indicated that only a fraction of the requisite installation and servicing vessels are presently on order.  Panel moderator Hoyoon Nam, a Partner at law firm Seward & Kissel, explained that: “The offshore wind industry is still learning how to deal with the vessel side of the equation.” Referring to the complement of required vessels, he added that: “One of the top challenges is- who is going to finance them?”

Panel member Jeff Andreini, Vice President- Offshore Wind, at Crowley Maritime, put some reality around this observation in the context of SOVs, with his estimate of a price of $160m - $180m each. He said: “Right now we are working on an SOV build program; we are not going to build anything without a contract. The charter rates are not indicative of the great returns that will be necessary in order for the vessel to be in the market for a very long time.”

Pointing to the successes of fellow panel member Otto Candies, Chairman and CEO of the company with same name, Andreini expressed a view that “The best way to go about it is to re-purpose vessels [that are already in the fleet].” He added that activities to serve offshore wind need to be made much more efficient and economical with vessels shared among multiple projects.

Candies, in his remarks, said “The biggest driver of being able to give a day rate cost that’s manageable is the term of the contract. We don’t have any plans to build anything new, without a contract in place. What you are going to have to do is engage in teamwork with your developer….coming up with a plan that allows you to amortize the cost of the vessel over something approaching the lifespan of that asset.”

He added: “You don’t need to have an MBA degree to figure out that if you are trying to amortize a $150 million vessel over five years the math just isn’t going to work. So, right now, we are going to continue to look at modifying existing vessels.”

He offered the view that, even with repurposing vessels built for the oil patch, which ideally would have a suitable hull form for the offshore wind operating conditions, there is still going to be a need for newbuilds. He said, “The key is going to be matching the lifetime of the contract with the lifespan of the asset.”

On a separate panel, J. Peter Laborde, Jr, the Managing Member at Laborde Marine Management LLC, responding to a question about newbuilds, throughout the markets, including OSVs for oil and gas, said: “We’ve heard some stories about contacts being awarded for windfarm vessels-but even with a contract, they’ve had a difficult time finding funding. I sense that’s going to continue to be happening.” In talking about newbuilds for the OSV sector, he echoed the views of Crowley Maritime and Otto Candies, saying: “The numbers simply don’t work.”