Report: Offshore Technology Conference

A special session at this year’s OTC energy summit in Houston assessed U.S. domestic off-shore wind capabilities and needs; a new project was announced to study the feasibility of wind-powered well water injection.

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Offshore wind facilities require an array of equipment not common to offshore oil platforms or onshore wind farms. Transporting and assembling this equipment, also requires specialized, purpose-built vessels, such as wind turbine installation vessels, which presently do not exist outside of Europe. (Source DNV GL – Energy)

While the focus of the annual Offshore Technology Conference (May 2-5, Houston, TX, US) is predominately Oil & Gas, the conference now includes technical programs on offshore wind; as well, the exhibition features companies and suppliers in the wind energy market.

A cross-functional group of companies, including ExxonMobil, ENI Norge, DNV GL, Statoil and others, announced plans to continue to the next stage of a joint industry project (JIP), which is studying the use of floating wind turbines as a power source for pressurized injection of water into injection wells. The project’s first phase, which was recently completed, entailed a detailed analysis, involving site-specific offshore cases, to assess the technical and commercial feasibility of the project.

The analysis confirmed the technical capability of wind turbines as a source of energy for injection of water into wells. “We are encouraged by recent advances in wind technology, particularly for niche applications such as offshore oil and gas operations,” said Sara Ortwein, president of ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company.

Additionally, it was found that while floating wind turbines have higher operational costs compared to water pumped from a host platform, the technology has significantly lower capital costs over the long term, resulting in overall projected cost savings of 20%. Wind energy also provides greater operational flexibility, especially when injection wells are located at a distance from the host platform. The next phase, which the JIP partners are currently planning, is a small-scale pilot test of critical subsystems.

At an offshore wind technical session, Michael Drunsic, offshore commercial lead, DNV GL – Energy (Høvik, Norway), talked about offshore wind supply-chain logistics, particularly the challenges they pose for the U.S. wind energy market, which at present has effectively little to no offshore wind capacity.

In addition to turbines, offshore wind facilities require an array of equipment not common to offshore oil platforms or onshore wind farms. The list includes seabed turbine foundations, offshore cable arrays, offshore substations, onshore cables and onshore substations. Offshore substations, for example, are typically large, heavy structures (see figure). Offshore “export” cabling, which transports the power to the onshore grid, is also heavy; as well, Drunsic noted, the trend to larger turbines will continue, with 8-MW turbines already operating in European offshore installation, and 10-MW turbines on the horizon.

Transporting and assembling all this equipment, in turn, requires specialized port and transportation facilities, as well as purpose-built vessels, such as crane-equipped wind turbine installation vessels (WTIVs). “There are currently no WTIVs outside Europe and this is problematic for any future, potential domestic offshore wind development plans,” Drunsic said. The first large-scale offshore wind installations in North America will need to leverage European experience, while maximizing local labor in order to help build the foundations of a domestic industry, he noted.

Ideally, wind turbine manufacturing facilities should be located near, or even at, ports, to minimize transportation and logistics costs. In addition to upgraded ports, any future domestic offshore wind initiatives will require an increase in North American turbine blade manufacturing capacity, an industry already stretched to meet the supply demands of onshore wind energy developments. Growing a sustainable chain of domestic suppliers implies, realistically, achieving a critical mass of projects. Drunsic says a pipeline of about 2,000 MW of projects is ballpark figure people in the wind industry cite as reasonable threshold to entice a significant supply chain investment. “This is an achievable target, and one currently being pursued in the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard,” Drunsic said.