Floating offshore wind may be an industry still in its infancy, but it is growing up rapidly. It has now moved from the purely theoretical to the practical, and a flood of new projects are hitting the market.
For example, the partners BW Ideol, TotalEnergies and Qair recently reached the final investment decision for the EolMed project, a 30MW offshore floating wind farm in the French Mediterranean.
Further afield, in Japan, the construction of the first floating wind farm in that region is scheduled to start in September 2022, featuring eight hybrid spar-type floating foundations delivering 16.8MW of power.
Announcements of projects in Greece, Scotland, Norway, California and Colombia have all come in recent months.
“Almost 80 percent
of the world’s off shore
wind resource potential
is in waters deeper
than 60 metres”
China also announced that it wants to move from 10GW to 80GW of floating wind in the next 10 years, the US wants 30GW by 2030, and some estimates suggest that floating wind will generate 15 percent of all offshore wind energy by 2050.
Almost 80 percent of the world’s offshore wind resource potential is in waters deeper than 60 metres (too deep for fixed-bottom turbines), and the opportunities for floating wind are truly global.
Along with these novel opportunities come novel risks. While some risks will be familiar to investors from the fixed-bottom industry, there are some potential challenges relating to maintenance, warranties and delay in particular which need to be reviewed with care.
Dealing with delays
As with any offshore wind project, the start date for power generation will be key. The risk of any delay to this date is always something which needs to be carefully considered and clearly allocated within the contractual mechanism. However, the risk of delay and disruption, and the uncertainty surrounding these risks, is greater with offshore floating wind than fixed.
The technology itself is new and less proven, and the supply chains for construction of the component parts, and their installation at site, are not yet fully established.
There are around 40 different floating designs currently in the market, ranging from complex semi-submersible platforms to simple spars, and precisely who will ultimately build these platforms (it may be established shipyards or new, specialised manufacturers perhaps located close to the relevant ports) is unknown.
As such, it is vital that the industry rapidly becomes as simplified, standardised and modularised as possible, so that the risks in the various parts of these supply chains can be minimised.
The parties will need to get everyone inside the tent early on and have open and transparent discussions about risk and responsibility. There also needs to be a clear responsibility matrix between the respective entities that provides for any delays in construction or installation.
The relationship between any extension of time mechanisms in the construction contract for the substructure, and the contract for installation and commissioning of the completed turbines, for example, needs to be explicitly set out.
In addition, a baseline schedule, detailed and with input from all parties at an early stage, is essential. It must be regularly reviewed and updated, and all responsible parties should be contractually required to attend regular meetings and provide updates.
Having early visibility of potential delays will allow the parties to adapt and thereby minimise the impact on the wider project.
The fatigue life of the floating structures themselves, as well as their mooring and cabling, is substantially more uncertain than for fixed-bottom turbines. The constant movement of the structure, and the impact of waves and weather upon it over time, could not only impact the output performance, but also increase the risk of failure.
This unique risk profile means that it is not advisable for developers to simply use their existing fixed-bottom contracts for such projects, in the hope that minor amendments can deal with these points.
“The technology itself
is new and less proven,
and the supply chains
for construction of the
component parts, and
their installation at
site, are not yet fully
Investors will want to have comfort from wider and longer running warranties of performance from contractors, but we would expect such contractors, particularly in light of the new and untested nature of the designs, to seek carve-outs and exclusions to help minimise their exposure.
One key area will be the availability warranty provided by the wind turbine generator supplier. Some suppliers may be less willing to provide an extensive availability warranty while the impact of the movement of the floating substructure on the turbines’ performance is not well known.
They may seek to protect themselves from liability resulting from underperformance of the wind turbines due to the conditions in which they are operated, and care will need to be taken to ensure no gaps arise between the various liability regimes.
Such nuances of liability will necessitate detailed and precise warranty provisions, explicitly connected to measurement or testing standards, and it may be necessary to specifically separate out some of these issues in the contract.
Parties should also look to try to minimise the risk of any such performance issues arising in the first place, by focusing on quality control and standardisation. The use of independent certification (and DNV, an assurance and risk management firm serving the maritime industry, have already made important steps forward in this respect) will be key and should be expressly referenced within the contract.
Maintenance will always be required on a wind farm, whether fixed or floating, but there are unique issues arising from the location of the floating farms in deep water far from shore, as well as the fact that they are not fixed to the seabed, which the industry is still grappling with.
The key issue is whether such maintenance should take place on site, or if any problematic turbine should be detached and towed back to port for repairs. While the latter was initially seen as preferable, concerns are now being raised about the risks involved in disconnecting a turbine and towing it back to shore, particularly where changing weather could lead to delay, or the process itself could cause additional fatigue.
The alternative is for heavy lift vessels, crane barges or other technologies, to be used to carry out maintenance on-site, and a number of providers are coming up with solutions.
There is clearly a lot of rapid technological development taking place in this area, and anything that can minimise the time and risk of maintenance is likely to be welcomed by the industry.
Of course, the risks involved in any such maintenance process, particularly of damage to the floating structure or the turbine itself, will need to be clearly delineated in the contract.
The opening up of new markets for floating wind farms means that developers and contractors who may not be familiar with offshore projects and, in particular, not familiar with the way risk is usually handled, will need expert guidance.
They will be understandably cautious moving into deeper waters but the opportunities in doing so are potentially huge – and investors will no longer be constrained by a lack of suitable sites for new projects.
Furthermore, turbine manufacturers will have access to new markets, oil and gas companies will be able to use their existing knowledge and expertise in a new arena, and the construction of floating structures, as well as their transportation and installation, will mean work for shipyards, manufacturers and the owners of specialist vessels.
If risk is faced clearly and dealt with in a collaborative and open manner from the start, then the potential for high reward is great.
Conrad Purcell is a partner in the energy practice group; Jonathan Morton is an associate working in the energy, offshore and shipbuilding disputes group at Haynes and Boone.