Interview: ABS' Matthew Tremblay on the U.S. Offshore Wind Market

block island wind farm
The Block Island Wind Farm installation was completed with a mixture of Jones Act and foreign-flag tonnage (file image)

Published Nov 20, 2020 3:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

The offshore wind market is accelerating quickly in the United States, creating new opportunities for shipowners and shipyards. The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) is playing a role by advising American vessel operators on the ins and outs of creating vessel assets for this brand new market – both the practical elements of vessel design and the compliance requirements of American regulators. The Maritime Executive recently caught up with Matthew Tremblay, senior vice president of offshore markets for ABS, for an introductory look at these new-to-the-U.S. vessel classes.

What are the "must-have" design elements for a Jones Act service and operation vessel (SOV) for wind farm maintenance? 

A windfarm service operation vessel (SOV) is a unique purpose-built vessel for the deployment and accommodation of offshore support and maintenance engineers. The SOV is highly adaptable, operating not only as a means of transport, but also as a hotel, a warehouse, and a workshop, transporting large quantities of supplies, equipment and tools. 

An SOV must be able to undertake voyages and stay on station offshore for several weeks at a time using dynamic positioning. It is equipped with a motion-compensated transfer gangway to allow maintenance personnel to walk between the vessel and offshore wind structure. An SOV may provide further flexibility by acting as the mothership for additional daughter craft, which can also be used to move technicians to and from the wind turbines in a range of weather conditions.

Regarding green technology, alternative fuels and energy sources such as hybrid systems can improve energy efficiency. Benefits of hybrid power are:

  • Environmental - reduced CO2 emissions and reduced NOx emissions
  • Design - built-in redundancy and an all-in-one power module
  • Operations - optimal engine loads, instant backup/load taking, less engine running hours, and auto-optimization by EMS
  • Operational Costs - Lower fuel consumption, lower maintenance costs

Moving forward, we’ve also seen pilot projects on fuel cells, hydrogen and other types of alternative fuels, as well as innovative technologies that are supporting the development of this part of the industry.

What are the legal requirements for Jones Act SOVs?

The Jones Act requires any vessel transporting cargo between U.S. ports to be built and flagged in the U.S., which is why over the last two2 years, ABS has received numerous enquiries from owners and designers, including those from Europe, seeking to access the U.S. market.

The Jones Act Law requires that a vessel is U.S. owned (75 percent), U.S. built, U.S. operated, and managed by a U.S. crew. The law’s application is managed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

A roadmap for the safety standards regarding vessels in wind farm service is provided by the United State Coast Guard (USCG). As wind energy is included as an energy resource, vessels engaged in wind farm development or operation, including installation, maintenance, turbine transport, crew transfers, heavy lifting and cable laying, may be certificated by the Coast Guard as OSVs, using for example, 46 CFR Subchapter L or I. Vessels that are engaged in wind farm development or operation which is certificated by the Coast Guard as OSVs use 46 CFR Subchapter L and / or cargo vessel using Subchapter I. For Gross Tonnage of at least 6000GT, or carriage of more than 36 offshore workers, 46 CFR 127 Subpart F is applicable.

As the leader in the U.S. oil and gas industry and the global offshore support vessel market, ABS is supporting operators and charterers by providing the necessary asset classification and statutory compliance issues. ABS also works with asset owners and designers on strategies to Americanize and optimize their vessel designs to meet the U.S. regulatory requirements, and increase uptime operational efficiency considerations with the localized environment conditions, including waves and tidal currents.

There are a wide variety of proposed U.S. turbine installation solutions - tug and barge feeder vessels, jack up feeder vessels, Jones Act wind turbine installation vessels (WTIVs), etc. Which solutions do you think will come to dominate the market? Or will it be a mixture, depending upon the project and the available assets?

For U.S. wind turbine installation, several types of solutions have been proposed based on the installation demand, availability of the vessels and the regulatory requirements. One example is the feeder vessel option to increase efficiency as well as comply with the regulatory requirements.

During the installation phase, there are three main options that could be taken in the U.S. offshore windfarm development:

1) A U.S. shipyard will build a U.S. flagged purpose-built wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) as recently announced by Dominion Energy. Having a specialized vessel would reduce the number of support vessels. However, a U.S.-built WTIV would be considerably more expensive than an Asian-built unit due to a lack of specialized manufacturers and suppliers in the country.

2) A non-U.S.-flagged WTIV could be mobilized into U.S. waters. The Jones Act, which stipulates that a wind turbine foundation is considered a U.S. port, requires any vessel transporting cargo between U.S. ports be built and flagged in the United States. Consequently, a non-Jones Act wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) is not able to transport components from an on-shore port to a turbine foundation. To use a foreign, non-Jones Act vessel, components from a U.S. port must be transported by a U.S. built feeder vessel. The feeder vessel, which may be barge, ship or jackup, is brought out to the project site where the foreign WTIV may lift the components off the feeder vessel onto the foundation without moving. This strategy allows the use of foreign-flagged WTIVs, but it requires additional Jones Act-compliant feeder vessels and adds to the project costs.

3) U.S.-flagged jack-ups or liftboats originally used in the offshore oil and gas industry could be adapted and utilized for a wind turbine’s foundation installation and / or transport the components as feeder vessels. The Block Island Wind Farm is a good example.

With the recent commitment from Scorpio Bulkers in the foreign-flag WTIV space, it appears that this sector is attracting real interest from established companies in adjacent sectors. Do you expect additional announcements from traditional shipping companies investing in the offshore wind space?

We are seeing a period of intense change with our oil and gas clients, and across industry, many of the oil majors’ announcements are focused on expanding and transitioning their business portfolios into the clean energy or renewable energy activity, including offshore wind. The traditional OSV owners are also entering wind support services. We see this continuing in to 2021 and beyond as the ‘cost-parity’ for renewable energy technology is on a level with fossil fuels.

How will federal policy choices affect the wind market in the years ahead?

While there are varying approaches to renewable energy across the political spectrum, ABS is confident the technology will play an increasingly significant role in the power mix in the U.S. and elsewhere in the coming years. Market dynamics are driving innovation, and encouraging new ways of thinking, forcing a transition across the energy mix - including energy policy.

Ultimately, the ‘health’ of our industry’s future and the clean energy it provides needs investor confidence over the security of their returns. So while policy instruments vary, they share a common goal to provide efficient, viable and sustainable clean energy provision.

Transitioning away from carbon intensive fuel sources takes time, investment and will involve a range of technologies, each with positive and negative aspects.  With 2030 rapidly approaching, those countries with percentage targets are looking to review and enhance their position and determine relevant policy focused on achieving decarbonization and clean air emission target.  Maintaining momentum at a political level is important to keep investors and core businesses involved. 

We’re making that journey for our clients and ourselves. The world of business and technical assurance, safety and integrity has a challenging contribution to make in today’s energy markets and cost-sensitive climate.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.