interview
Industry Insight

Logistics concepts for the offshore wind industry

Authors: Gwendolyn Dünner, Andrea Goretzki, Julia Zywietz

Wind and weather provide renewable energy at sea

Offshore wind energy is an important component for the energy transition. In Germany, however, only a few new offshore wind farms have been installed in recent years – but that is about to change. By 2030, the share of renewable energies in Germany is to reach 80 per cent of the total electricity supply. To achieve this goal, the promotion and steady expansion of offshore wind energy is essential. This offers great potential for logistics service providers in particular since they are directly involved in the planning and implementation of the expansion.

Björn Wittek, Managing Director of Rhenus Offshore Logistics, is a specialist in the logistics of the expansion of offshore wind power plants. He is familiar with the logistical processes and knows which special features have to be taken into account when supplying offshore platforms and workplaces on the high seas. In this interview, he provides an insight into the logistics concepts and future plans of the offshore wind market.

Editorial department: After several years in the doldrums, there has been a renewed focus on the offshore wind market, especially since the government change in Germany and again since the beginning of the year. What developments are you currently noticing here and what significance do they have for offshore logistics?

Björn Wittek: It was already apparent in the middle of last year that, overall, offshore wind energy was receiving more attention again in Germany after the previous lull. The announcement of the new targets of 30 gigawatts (GW) for the year 2030 in Germany and 20 GW in the Netherlands are logical consequences of the continuous cost reduction on the part of the offshore industry in recent years.

We are currently closely following the upcoming amendment of the Wind-on-Sea Act in Germany as an essential regulatory framework for the industry. This law must enable the 30 GW framework by 2030, which will be a very challenging task.

In logistics, we will only see the effects of the planned expansion from the middle of the decade. Currently, the legal framework for the approval process is being created. However, several years will pass before physical work is done and logistical support is needed. There is no doubt that the additional wind turbines will subsequently generate further demand for handling capacities and logistics services in the ports and at sea.

 

Editorial department: What logistical challenges must be taken into account for the dismantling and operation of offshore wind farms?

Björn Wittek: A good question that cannot be fully answered at present. It is not yet clear what specific tasks will result from the new approval procedure and how far dismantling will then have to go. For example, it still has to be clarified whether or not the foundations and scour protection, which is often mounted on many thousands of tonnes of armour stone, must be fully removed. It is also unclear whether the submarine cables have to be salvaged. Of course, we are happy to contribute our know-how here, both in the professional associations and directly as advisory services.

From a logistical perspective, we will have to deal with ‘construction in reverse’ in many cases, partly under tightened conditions. Connecting screws, for example, are rusted solid after twenty years at sea. Technicians who built the plants twenty years ago may no longer be in service. And most importantly: unlike construction, dismantling is purely a matter of cost optimisation. The wind farm has already earned its money. Every euro that has to be spent on dismantling reduces the total income. The cost pressure will be massive.

 

Editorial department: What is the advantage of using a specialised service provider like Rhenus to handle the logistics for both the construction and dismantling of offshore wind farms?

Björn Wittek: We have around 100 team-years of offshore experience in Rhenus Offshore Logistics – plus the many, many years that our colleagues at the various locations have. We know what we are doing – and offshore logistics is ultimately nothing more than specialised project management and the coordination of subcontractors. Experience is an important asset for us.

 

Editorial department: What goals has offshore logistics set for the energy supply? Have these goals changed due to the current energy market situation and against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war, and how can these goals be achieved?

Björn Wittek: Offshore wind energy in Germany is to be expanded to 30 GW by 2030, 40 GW by 2035 and 70 GW by 2045 – starting from about 8 GW today. Due to the relatively high energy yield in the offshore segment, around 3,500 full-load hours can be realised per year. An expansion therefore makes a lot of sense, but also brings with it considerable problems.

In order to be able to derive these amounts of electricity, we need not only the electricity grids offshore, but also onshore down to Bavaria. We need a large number of new converter platforms both offshore and onshore, many thousands of kilometres of sea and land cables... all this will not be easy. And in view of the long lead times for such projects, it will definitely be an act of athletics to reach the expansion target by 2030. Especially since the technology that is to go into service in 2030 must in principle already be ordered in the next three to four years in order to account for the production times.

 

Editorial department: As Managing Director of Rhenus Offshore Logistics, what projects have you realised in the offshore wind power sector so far and what is still to come?

Björn Wittek: We started at the end of 2013 and have been involved in a large number of platform projects, practically always in cooperation with our colleagues in the ports, from our customs division and from waste management (via our sister company REMONDIS). We want to continue this in the future.

At the moment, we are particularly involved in activities such as the shipment of sea marks and the provision of specialist personnel or project management services, in part directly at our customers’ sites, both onshore and offshore. This rather small-scale business is primarily due to the fact that there are currently no major projects under construction or that they are just starting.

What we have achieved is a successful entry into the new offshore market in Taiwan. From April 2022, one of our employees will be permanently stationed on site and will support and realise projects locally in cooperation with our European colleagues and the Taiwanese unit.

Of course, we always look into whether entering other offshore markets is worthwhile. Ultimately, it is always a question of whether we can offer additional benefits to potential customers locally. Not all markets are suitable for us: a significant additional benefit can be generated if we can combine services and provide them for several clients at the same time. If that is not geographically possible, it is a big hurdle for us.

 

Editorial department: What long-term developments do you see for the offshore wind market?

Björn Wittek: In my estimation, we will see a significant expansion in the offshore wind market from the mid-2020s. Whether we will reach the set targets in 2030 I think is quite doubtful. I rather believe that the market is once again heading for a ‘boom-and-bust’ model, which we have already experienced in Germany and do not really want again. A somewhat flatter and more continuous expansion curve would have made more sense to me. But the old rule applies: ambitious goals also lead to ambitious achievements. I would be happy if we could reach or even exceed the 30 GW mark.

What will be exciting from a logistical perspective is the question of whether legislators will approve co-use in the long term – in other words: the multiple use of areas in offshore wind farms, for example for aquacultures, floating photovoltaic systems or underwater current turbines. In my view, the approval of such systems would cause the offshore market in general to grow strongly and become more ‘colourful’ – and, of course, generate a significant increase in demand for offshore logistics.

Looking for more details on offshore logistics?

Discover the specialised Rhenus services for the offshore wind industry.

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