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Four Offshore Wind Lessons the U.S. Can Learn from Europe

Four Offshore Wind Lessons the U.S. Can Learn from Europe, Andrew Wedekind

Many European countries have a record of successful offshore wind installations. From early installations like the Offshore Wind Port in Bremerhaven, Germany, to the cutting-edge Humber Gateway Wind Farm in the United Kingdom, the European offshore wind industry has made great advances. But this success didn’t come overnight.

The gradual development of the European wind industry over the past 20 years has allowed the region to establish a reliable offshore wind supply chain while making steady advancements in wind technology. Now that demand for wind power is skyrocketing in the United States, there is much to learn from the European counterparts.

  1. Volume Presents Challenges
    While the European offshore wind industry developed incrementally — advancing from double-digit-megawatt developments to much larger installations — the U.S. offshore wind market is undertaking initial installations ranging from 400-800 MW. This buildout has created tremendous, immediate demand across the supply chain. Today, the primary challenge facing the U.S. offshore wind industry is developing a structure around the volume of anticipated work in order to drive necessary investment in the supply chain.
  2. Regional Commitments Will Drive Supply Chain Investment
    Though the U.S. buildout is driven by state policy, commitments on a regional scale will drive the overall sustainability of the offshore wind market. Regional coordination on both supply chain and offshore wind generation development will demonstrate market longevity, which in turn will signify a space suitable for long-term investment by original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and supply chain partners. Europe has modeled this approach, albeit through some challenges. Given the rapid investment being attempted in the U.S. market, the sooner these regional commitments can be undertaken, the better.
  3. Advanced Turbine Technology Lowers Costs
    The long-term investment made in the European market has resulted in technological advancements, particularly in wind turbines. These advancements have made it possible to produce the same amount of energy with fewer turbine installations. That drives down the cost of energy production. Once the U.S. market is established, all stakeholders will benefit from these and future advances, as well as their ability to continue driving down the cost of installations.
  4. Supply Chain Networking Is Essential
    Within the U.K., there has been an undertaking to develop an effective networking model that matches OEMs, offshore contractors and the entire offshore supply chain with appropriate buildout opportunities, including capitalizing on regional experience. The same approach can be utilized in the U.S. The first step is identifying the unique skill sets that different companies and states bring to the table. Effective networking of specific organizational and regional strengths can provide for efficient installation of specific projects, as well as drive technological advancements and operations and maintenance support.

Transferring European offshore wind experience and lessons learned to the nascent U.S. market presents challenges, but nothing that can’t be overcome. As U.S. states formalize their commitments to offshore wind, developers and suppliers can address issues related to volume and networking. Ultimately, the entire industry will benefit from greater regional investment, and the sustainability of the overall market will be improved.

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Andrew Wedekind
Written by Andrew Wedekind
Andrew Wedekind serves as national development manager for the offshore wind market at Burns & McDonnell. He has an extensive background in power delivery projects under the engineer-procure-construct (EPC) method and more than 12 years of experience serving utilities across the United States.

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