In January, energy giant and offshore wind leader Ørsted launched a children’s book, Is This My Home?, and an online “universe” to make it easier for parents to talk to their children about climate change. The book takes a little girl on a journey from her bedroom to mountains, forests and oceans to discover that the whole planet is her home. She sees snow melting and oceans becoming polluted. She returns to her bedroom and thinks of all the wonderful creatures she met along the way – the creatures she shares her home with. “She knew what to do. And so do you…Love your home.”
Ørsted is on a mission. The company is urging parents to talk about the environmentally-friendly things they do every day like recycling, riding bikes, choosing public transport or having a more plant-based diet. It recommends the use of electric cars, the purchase of sustainably-produced products and choosing a green energy provider.
Ørsted wants to see a world that runs entirely on green energy, and today’s children will play a key role in realizing the transformation. “A hurdle on the path to a world running entirely on green energy is the doubt among some people that it is possible,” the company says. “It is possible. Green energy is now cheaper than black, leaving no excuses not to replace fossil fuels with wind and solar energy.”
The company believes so strongly in a carbonless future that two years ago, having sold off its oil and gas business, it changed its name from DONG (Danish Oil & Natural Gas) to Ørsted, honoring a noted 19th century Danish scientist.
For a long time natural gas was considered the solution, or at least a “bridge fuel” to a carbonless future. In an energy scenario consistent with the two-degree climate target of the 2015 Paris Agreement, global gas demand in 2050 would only be slightly lower than today, argues energy major Equinor.
“The world needs more energy, but lower emissions,” says spokeswoman Irene Rummelhoff. “Natural gas is well positioned to provide secure, competitive and sustainable energy to consumers and industry: reducing CO2 emissions by 50 percent when replacing coal, providing needed back-up to renewables and offering a long-term solution for the low-carbon future if converted to hydrogen.”
However, International Renewable Energy Agency Director-General Emeritus Adnan Z. Amin says that myths about renewable energy, such as their variability or unsuitability for industrial processes where high-intensity heat is required, are being exposed: “Every day those arguments are falling away because the transformation is happening so quickly.” Renewables cost increasingly less than gas, and gas’s future is “not as robust as the industry would like it to be.”
It’s a view that Ørsted shares. “The years 2015-2018 were the four warmest on record,” says the company. “To avoid runaway climate change, society must radically decarbonize the way it generates and consumes energy.”
Ørsted will stop using coal in 2023 and will generate almost exclusively green energy by 2025. The company currently operates more than 1,100 offshore wind turbines, has installed approximately 5.6 GW of offshore wind capacity and has a further 3.4 GW under construction. It’s Ørsted’s ambition to have 15 GW of installed offshore wind capacity worldwide by 2025, and it aims to bring clean energy to more than 50 million people by 2030.
Ørsted is not alone in its energy transition. Other energy majors are venturing into renewables as well including Equinor and Shell, which are steadily boosting their offshore wind investments. And in its first serious foray into offshore wind, Total is teaming up with Ørsted and Elicio in a bid for the 600 MW Dunkirk offshore wind farm in France.
There are over 100 offshore wind farms in Europe, and in February the first turbine was installed at Hornsea 1 in the U.K., the world’s biggest and a joint venture between Ørsted and Global Infrastructure Partners. The 1,218 MW-farm will be nearly double the size of the world’s current largest, Walney Extension, and power well over a million homes. This makes Hornsea 1 the first of a new generation of offshore power plants that can rival the capacity of fossil fuel power stations.
The European wind market is well-established, but China is predicted to become the largest offshore wind market by next year. China was responsible for almost half the world’s $25 billion investment in offshore wind last year, spending $11.4 billion on 13 new farms.
“There are four key Asian markets,” says Edgare Kerkwijk, Board Member of the Asia Wind Energy Association, “Taiwan, Japan, Korea and China. Offshore wind will be the largest, fastest growing renewable energy technology in Asia. We are currently at around two gigawatts. In 2027, we are estimated to be at 45 gigawatts.” Countries in the region are trying to walk away from coal and nuclear, and that, says Kerkwijk, requires something fast and big. Offshore wind is both.
South Korea is moving from nuclear and coal to renewable energy and is likely to pioneer floating wind technology in the region. Korea National Oil Corporation and Equinor are jointly developing opportunities. Equinor already operates the world’s first full-scale floating wind farm, Hywind Scotland.
Elsewhere, partners Shell, innogy and Stiesdal Offshore Technologies are moving forward on the TetraSpar floating foundation demonstration project that will run off the Norwegian coast in 2020. Its leaner manufacturing and installation requirements are expected to offer competitive advantages over existing floating concepts and benefit countries like the U.S., where much of the nation’s best offshore wind resources are found in waters too deep for traditional offshore wind turbines fixed to the sea floor. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy announced up to $28 million in funding for floating technologies.
Bigger Is Better – and Cheaper
Jeremy Panes, a naval architect with Waves Group, says advances in technology have been incremental with increasing turbine size having a major impact on reducing the cost per megawatt of offshore wind. And as the cost drops there is less need for government subsidies, and more projects become economically feasible.
Early this year Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy launched the company’s first 10 MW offshore wind turbine. Its 94-meter (308-foot) blades, almost the length of a soccer field, provide a swept area of 29,300 square meters. The new turbine potentially sets a commercial record in blade length, but it’s not the only one to achieve a double-digit rating. MHI Vestas Offshore Wind announced development of a 10 MW turbine last September, and GE Renewable Energy and Future Wind announced a 12 MW prototype in January.
MHI Vestas Offshore Wind and Vestas have announced a 4.2 MW extreme-climate wind turbine that features a reinforced blade and strengthened hub capable of withstanding wind speeds of nearly 120 miles per hour and gusts of more than 170 mph. The model is also designed to withstand the above-average frequency and intensity of lightning strikes associated with typhoons. Serial production is expected by mid-2021.
Bigger turbines mean bigger foundations, and the first record-breaking foundations for a potentially huge pipeline of offshore wind capacity for SPIC Guangdong Offshore Wind Power in China were completed in February. The foundations are the heaviest to date, says designer Ramboll, 1,600 tons compared to the previous record of 1,300 tons.
Developments such as 66 kV subsea cabling rather than earlier 33 kV systems have also facilitated the development of large-scale farms as have larger and more specialized vessels. A record offshore wind cable lay was completed at Hornsea 1 last December when Tideway completed a 467-kilometer (290-mile) offshore export cable using the Lewek Connector and the DP 3, dual-fuel newbuild Living Stone.
One of the biggest challenges in meeting decarbonization ambitions lies with the major industrial sectors – steel, chemicals and cement – which require huge amounts of reliable power. Wind energy has the potential to play a leading role in the decarbonization of such industries, says WindEurope. One way to achieve this is to use “green hydrogen” produced via water electrolysis with electricity produced by wind farms.
Wave power is seen as another technology for reducing the variability of wind energy production as a source of electricity. Danish developer Wavepiston is working on a full-scale wave energy demonstration project using technology that is light and compact to simplify logistics and reduce costs. CEO Michael Henriksen says the system is suitable for near-shore power and desalination applications and as a complementary technology for offshore wind and a power supply for offshore oil and gas platforms: “With waves, solar and wind, you are able to have a wider energy production window.” Such a portfolio holds great promise for the future, he says.
An emerging solar technology that has just received its first commercial contract is Ocean Sun’s floating photovoltaic array. Although the contract is for deployment on a reservoir, the technology is suitable for ocean deployment and is both low-cost and scalable, says the Norwegian company.
According to Dr. Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, if the world is serious about meeting its climate targets then, as of today, there needs to be a systematic preference for investment in sustainable energy technologies. While Ørsted looks to children to shape this future, Birol looks elsewhere. “Our analysis shows that over 70 percent of global energy investments will be government-driven, and as such the message is clear – the world’s energy destiny lies with government decisions.”
The opinions expressed herein are the author’s and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.