Road to net zero: Local partners help avoid supply bottlenecks

Supply chains may be hard pushed to keep up with accelerating demand, especially in emerging offshore markets

Europe has dominated the offshore wind sector, but China has been catching up and the US is set to take off (pic: Philippe Clément/Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Europe has dominated the offshore wind sector, but China has been catching up and the US is set to take off (pic: Philippe Clément/Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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This is a feature from Windpower Monthly's June 2021 issue. Click here to read the full edition. Click here to read part one, and here to read part two.

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Alongside permitting and grid issues, supply chains are another barrier to a step-change in wind farm deployment, particularly for fast-growing offshore wind. While GWEC says the market is moving too quickly to accurately judge the split between the onshore and offshore wind capacity needed to reach the Paris targets, it expects offshore wind's share of new installations to rise from 7% in 2020 to 20% by 2025.

The offshore sector has so far been mostly based in Europe, but is increasingly moving to the US and other emerging markets, who do not have supply chain experience, Brun points out. In new markets, regulations stipulating a percentage of components and labour that need to be supplied locally can be a burden on developers.

In the US, president Joe Biden's newly announced target to install 30GW of offshore wind power by 2030 has buoyed the industry, but meeting it could put a huge strain on the supply chain. The country currently has only two offshore wind farms — the {{Block Island-fa6ad588-235d-50c9-9d66-6cb78162578f}} site off the coast of Rhode Island, and the {{Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) - Pilot-fa6ad588-8c63-2eef-382c-4ced31c9909c}} off the coast of Virginia Beach.

So far, US states have taken a fragmented approach to local-content rules, said Abby Watson, head of government affairs for Siemens Gamesa, speaking in a webinar on US offshore wind hosted by GWEC in April.

"The US isn't really a 30GW market by 2030. It's actually a 9GW market in New York, and a 7.5GW market in New Jersey, and a 5.2GW market in Virginia," she said. A new supply chain facility for a major OEM is hugely expensive to set up, so needs to have long-term viability, which is complicated when one state does not recognise the components made in another as being local due to individual states having different rules, she explained.

Fortunately, some states are beginning to take a regional approach to this. For example, the governors of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina have recently agreed to recognise the value of components manufactured elsewhere in the US, as well as in Virginia, she said. Brun suggests that developers can support local suppliers by scaling up operations, although this can be complicated due to intellectual property concerns and a lack of an adequately skilled workforce.

Local partners

He points to several recent examples of developers and suppliers establishing joint ventures specifically for the US market. This has been necessary to comply with the Jones Act, which means that offshore wind operators transporting components between US ports must use vessels that are built, owned and operated by US citizens or permanent residents.

In March, US-based shipping company Crowley announced a joint venture with Denmark's wind energy vessel operator Esvagt to increase the availability of service vessels. Crowley will own and operate the vessels, which will be manned by US mariners, while Esvagt will provide technical advice on the design, construction, and operation of the ships.

Similarly, last November, Danish steel contractor Bladt Industries and US-based engineering company Burns & McDonnell formed a strategic alliance to provide steel and other offshore-wind components for projects along the US's eastern seaboard.

If supply-chain issues can be overcome, ambitious offshore wind targets set by states on the east coast could do much to boost overall US wind installation totals, says Bahar.

So far, the US wind boom has been largely taking place onshore in states such as Texas and Oklahoma, while being constrained on the east of the country due to issues of social acceptability in areas with higher-density populations, he adds. "I think the US will be one of the largest offshore markets in the world in the coming five years."

It is not just in the US where local content rules can impede wind-industry growth — supply chains for onshore wind in countries such as India, Brazil and the Middle East, have seen similar problems, says Boccolini.

"While we fully understand the reason behind local-content rules, they are a possible threat to the energy transition, because they don't allow developers to go for the cheapest solution. There is a need to create jobs in those markets, but then you see the LCoE impacted, so it's a bit of a dilemma," he says.

Despite the challenges, the IEA's Bahar remains optimistic that wind can rise to the challenge of the Paris targets. He believes that policies will emerge from the multitude of governments that have set net-zero carbon targets, and that the interest of private companies in buying renewable power will mean that deployment will expand in any case. "It will not be easy, but I think we have the highest level of momentum historically now," he says.

Williams at GWEC echoes this sentiment. "Setting an overall target is not enough, you need to have the policy framework to achieve it. Although the barriers on the ground can vary between markets, really the overall message is to put policymaking on a climate-emergency footing."

Part 1 – What the wind industry needs to do next

Part 2 – No power without transmission

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