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Moving from oil to offshore wind

Norway has forty years’ experience exploring, developing and operating oil fields in harsh environments and deep waters in the North Sea. Now some of those same petroleum-related companies are building and developing large offshore wind farms worldwide.

Norway has the advantage of decades of accumulated experience from development and the operation of offshore oil and gas installations. In addition, the country has strong oil and gas, as well as maritime industry clusters, with global outreach and a large renewable energy sector based on hydropower.

Many of these companies are part of two recently established Arena programmes for offshore wind, Arena Norwegian Offshore Wind (NOW) and Arena Wind Energy, which are publicly funded by Innovation Norway, The Industrial Development Corporation of Norway, and the Research Council of Norway. NOW is based in Bergen and Stavanger, Norway’s petroleum capital, while the other cluster is located in Verdal and Trondheim in mid Norway.

Together, the two industrial clusters represent some 100 companies in the offshore wind power market, comprising the entire offshore wind value chain from prospecting and environmental studies via project development, engineering, supply of infrastructure, installation, to operation of wind farms.

Rieber subsea support vessel Polar Prince is being used by Subocean for the Greater Gabbard wind farm offshore of the UK.
© GC Rieber Shipping

High Transfer Value

Asle Lygre, NOW general manager, believes there are many similarities between the offshore oil and gas sectors and offshore wind power, starting from the early phase with seabed surveys, mapping wave currents, and environmental analysis. Then there are the many operational similarities within pre-engineering, marine operations, and installation.

“We have 40 years’ experience,” said Lygre. “This knowledge has a high transfer value to offshore wind.”

Rieber Shipping, through its subsidiary Technocean, is one of many companies within NOW that has used its offshore expertise for the offshore wind market. The Bergen-based company has an offshore and shipping business that includes specialized vessels, marine ship management, project development, and industrial portfolio management within the segments subsea, ice/support, and marine seismic.

Rieber’s support vessel Polar Prince is currently being used by Subocean for subsea operations related to the 140 turbine Greater Gabbard wind farm offshore of the UK. The Polar Prince will later be used on the Vattenfall Thanet project off the northeast coast of Kent to help lay power cables.

Another NOW member, Bergen Group Rosenberg in Stavanger, is one of the major contractors within the oil and gas market. In 2009, the company signed a cooperation agreement with Troll WindPower for the construction and delivery of offshore transformer stations for the growing offshore wind farm market. The two companies have designed a turnkey offshore substation in order to have a centralized connection point for offshore wind farms.

In Verdal, Arena Wind Energy member Aker Verdal has built six steel tripod foundations for the Alpha Ventus wind farm offshore of Germany. Aker Verdal also built another seven tripods which were installed six kilometres off the Normandy coast of France at the project Côte d’Albâtre. The company is more typically known for its engineering and building of large steel constructions of steel substructures for the oil and gas industry.

GE Cooperation
The municipality of Verdal has gained increasing importance in the offshore wind market for another reason. It was recently chosen as the sight for General Electric’s expansion into offshore wind power activity in Norway. In March 2010 the American company announced that it would expand its production of turbine demonstration units in Verdal, as well as create a new offshore technology development centre in Oslo.

The deal with GE also entails that it will join NOWITECH (Norwegian Research Centre for Offshore Technology) to participate in joint research projects on offshore wind topics. Norway will be the planned site for testing and demonstration of the first 4 MW wind turbines offshore. This will result in the creation of approximately 100 jobs and a EUR 75 million investment related to GE’s offshore wind business in Norway. GE has a presence in Norway already through its acquisition of Trondheim-based ScanWind last year.

“Norway has a know-how base which is unique within the offshore and maritime sectors and this competence has considerable relevance for the development within offshore wind,” said Trond Giske, Norway’s trade and industry minister, in connection with the GE announcement.

Aker Verdal constructed the tripods for the wind turbines for the Alpha Ventus wind farm offshore of Germany.
© alpha ventus Bildarchiv

Beyond Petroleum

Part of the reason why petroleum-related companies are going into the renewable energy market is that they see it as a way to differentiate their operations. The financial crisis has represented a downturn for traditional industries and they now see new opportunities, according to Lygre. The offshore market is experiencing strong growth and there are plans in Germany and the UK that are materializing.

The European Wind Energy Association has a target of up to 40 GW in European offshore wind power by 2020 compared to 2,000 MW in 2009. If Norwegian companies succeed in taking 5% of this market, it would result in NOK 3.6 billion in turnover by 2020, according to an Econ Pöyry report on Green Business Opportunities recently prepared for Norway’s Electrical Foundation Forum.

Even energy producers have diversified into offshore wind. Statoil has invested in wind farms both onshore and offshore and developed the world’s first fully floating wind turbine Hywind offshore of Norway. Statoil and Statkraft are involved in the development of the Dogger Bank zone and Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farms in the UK. Statoil is also an investor with Lyse, among others, in floating wind turbine company Sway, which was founded by Inocean.

“Oil and gas does not have the same prosperous future, even though there still are many decades ahead with activity,” said Lygre. “(Petroleum) production is levelling off. Offshore wind is increasing. This is the future.”

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