Powercluster project: Learn lessons from offshore gas and oil

OFFSHORE: Offshore wind must look to the oil and gas industry experience to help it slash costs and increase competitiveness, the final European Union Powercluster meeting in Bremerhaven, Germany, was told last month.

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But the wind sector was also warned to avoid following oil and gas in outsourcing too many vital procedures.

Powercluster is a project backed by the EU with 18 project partners from Germany, the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. It is aimed at implementing a trans-national offshore wind energy cluster in the North Sea to strengthen the region's position in the global market.

The challenge of reducing the cost of offshore wind to make North Sea wind farms viable without support was one that had to be met, East of England Energy Group chief executive John Best told the Bremerhaven meeting.

"This must be done by locating wind farms in areas of high average wind speed, designing turbines with low cut-in and high cut-out wind speeds, using geographic diversity and developing an interconnecting grid to reduce the periods when no wind energy is available," he said.

Collaborative approach

"But this also means adopting offshore methods, practices and procedures developed in the offshore oil and gas industry, particularly during installation."

Tackling costs was a priority because offshore wind had to be competitive against other sources of electricity, said Best, adding that "power generated offshore has no automatic right to be part of the future energy mix".

A key difference in approach between oil and gas and wind energy was that major oil and gas companies have tended to take a collaborative approach to offshore technology, suggested Best.

"Rather than competing they have worked together to approach the problems of working in the North Sea," he said.

"This is particularly apparent in relation to safety systems. Conversely, the offshore wind industry is still dominated by wind turbine manufacturers who tend to be secretive and unwilling to share their experience in installing and operating offshore wind turbines."

He advocated a more open approach, which, he said, may help reduce risks and the perception of risk from an investor's point of view.

However, he warned against following oil and gas companies' approach to outsourcing the operation and maintenance of offshore facilities, which he said had reduced their in-house engineering expertise and ability to control the technology, equipment and procedures.

"This was highlighted by the recent Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill disaster," he said."Unfortunately, some owners of wind farms are taking the same approach and this is a high-risk strategy given the immaturity of the offshore wind industry."

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