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Ireland’s Gael Offshore Network ready to support the development of Australia’s first Offshore Wind Farms

As Australia continues to decarbonise its electricity grid and reduce its reliance on coal with a number of power stations being decommissioned over the next decade, it will need to replace this generation capacity with renewable energy sources to ensure the increasing energy demand is met. This will require the construction of a large amount of renewable energy infrastructure such as wind and solar farms, as well as transmission and storage infrastructure to connect this new power to the grid.

Over the past year or so, another alternative source of renewable energy has become a viable option in Australia: offshore wind. After a number of years of hard work on the part of Australian developers and industry leaders promoting the benefits of offshore wind and lobbying the federal government to legislate for wind farms to be built in Australian waters, the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Bill was passed at the end of 2021. In the year since, an industry has formed and momentum has accelerated with new Australian developers being formed, experienced international companies entering the market and over 40 projects being planned along Australia’s east, south and west coasts. Since the federal election last May, the government has supported this acceleration with a commitment to offshore energy generation, identifying 6 maritime areas to be investigated as potential areas to locate wind farms and declaring the area of Gippsland in Victoria as Australia’s first offshore wind zone, where developers can now apply for feasibility licenses. Generation targets and planning at state level in Victoria and more recently NSW has also supported the development of the industry.

While Australia is late to the party in terms of offshore wind relative to other countries (offshore wind farms have been operating in Europe since the 1990s), it is a very suitable environment for offshore wind farms with high quality wind resources and existing onshore transmission infrastructure, and it also now has the benefit of learning from international best practice and the expertise and experience of established international developers and supply chain.

Ireland is another developing market for offshore wind with huge potential, boasting some of the most powerful wind anywhere in the world and a large maritime area covering large parts of the Irish and Celtic Seas suitable for fixed-bottom turbine platforms and deeper waters in the Atlantic Ocean with huge floating wind potential. The Irish government has set a target of 7GW of the country’s energy generation to come from offshore wind by 2030, which includes the fast-tracking of 7 projects which were awarded Maritime Area Consents (MACs) at the end of 2022. These projects can now participate in the ORESS 1, Ireland’s first offshore wind auction, which will take place in the first half of 2023 and is expected to procure approximately 2.5GW of electricity generating capacity.

Another factor supporting the development of offshore wind farms off the coast of Ireland is a strong supply chain of Irish companies with capability across the project lifecycle and experience working with some of the world’s leading developers in nearby developed markets in the UK, the Nordics and mainland Europe, as well as developing markets in the US and Asia. Enterprise Ireland has been working with Irish innovators in the offshore wind sector for several years, supporting companies to invest in developing capabilities to ensure their solutions are meeting the demands of the industry, both domestically and globally.

Ireland’s offshore wind industry cluster, the Gael Offshore Network, is combining innovation and experience to help the global offshore wind industry to reach new levels of efficiency. At every wind farm life stage, Irish companies are developing smart approaches to reducing cost, enhancing safety and improving the levelized cost of energy (LCOE). The Gael Offshore Network brings together over 65 companies with expertise in key areas such as civil and marine engineering, geotechnical/geophysical capability, materials handling, environmental surveys and data collection, digital solutions and cybersecurity.

A number of exciting Irish companies from the cluster are ready to bring their technologies, expertise and experience to the emerging offshore wind industries in Australia and New Zealand and support the increasing number of projects that have been announced by local and international developers.

During the process of selecting an offshore site for wind farm development, it is important to assess the strength and characteristics of the wind resource to inform this decision and optimise array location and design. Brightwind have provided wind resource assessment services including array design, energy yield assessment and metocean data monitoring at large offshore wind sites such as Hornsea (UK), Hoizont (Germany) and Greater Changhua (Taiwan). Co. Cork-based Green Rebel’s Floating LiDAR systems can deliver metocean data measuring wind speed profiles, wave climate, current climate, water quality and met monitoring, including solutions with buoy and/or bottom mounted systems and even drifting platforms and drogues. The buoy platform has been designed in Ireland and purpose-built for deployment and endurance in the most challenging sea conditions and has achieved level 2 certification.

Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions have provided specialist design and consultancy services to leading international developers such as Corio Generation, SSE Renewables and Ocean Winds to assist them with their offshore development goals. Their services include strategic development advice, consenting and planning support, survey and site characterisation support, concept/detailed design and installation and engineering support. In Australia, GDG has already undertaken constraints analysis to identify a number of sites suitable for offshore wind development off the coast of Western Australia, as well as supporting the submission of applications to the Australian authorities to obtain consent to undertake site investigations.

The capex and opex involved in planning, constructing and operating an offshore wind farm at scale requires extensive technical and financial modelling from the outset to determine the viability of the project. Exceedence has created a sound, equitable and independent financial planning software tool which provides an easy like-for-like comparison across devices, projects and locations with the bottom line being financial viability. Indicators such as Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE), Internal Rate of Return (IRR), Net Present Value (NPV), Payback and Cash flows are provided to answer these questions.

Once developers in Australia have obtained feasibility licenses for the Gippsland zone and other future designated offshore wind zones, they will begin to survey the marine area and seabed to determine its suitability for turbine installation. An alternative to traditional ocean survey methods has been developed by XOCEAN, a Co. Louth-based manufacturer and operator of carbon-neutral Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USVs) to collect data from the ocean, ranging from mapping the seabed to inspecting subsea structures and monitoring the environment for offshore wind farm development. Having already completed over 70,000 survey hours to date leading offshore developers such as Ørsted, SSE Renewables, Equinor, Vattenfall, RWE and bp, they bring considerable international experience to the emerging Australian offshore wind industry. Currently manufacturing one new survey vessel per month, XOCEAN will have USVs in Australia in early 2023 ready to survey Australia’s oceans and seas and collect high quality data.

Continuous monitoring of the marine environment is important throughout the project lifecycle from the planning phase, during wind farm construction through to inspection of assets such as cables, monopiles and substations once they’re installed and operational. Cathx Ocean’s patented FDI® (Fast Digital Inspection) technology captures high resolution subsea optical imaging, measuring and inspecting offshore assets and environments. This increases visibility of subsea assets, reduces vessel times by up to 50%, minimises the need for people offshore and reduces the overall carbon footprint for subsea surveys. In Australia, prior to COVID Cathx FDI systems were used to perform inspections on over 80% of offshore pipelines in Australian waters.

Offshore wind farms in Australian waters will require the support of ports close to project zones, particularly in the turbine construction/assembly and operations and maintenance phases of the projects. Combilift’s range of straddle carriers and mobile gantry can handle and move turbine components, such as the 108-metre long Siemens Gamesa B108 wind turbine blade, around designated port areas in a safer and more efficient manner. Significant infrastructure upgrades will also be required at ports to facilitate the docking of crew transfer vessels (CTVs) being used for wind turbine installation, cable laying and operations and maintenance on the wind farms once they are operational. Inland and Coastal Marina Systems have been designing, manufacturing and installing water access solutions for over 20 years and in 2017 built their first offshore wind-specific O&M base for CTV mooring at Aberdeen Harbour for Swedish energy company Vattenfall. In the years since, they have been evolving their pontoon systems to facilitate different and larger vessels at more exposed ports and harbours in the UK and Europe.

 

Crews operating in the marine environment during the construction, operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms are exposed to greater risks due to working in some of the world’s most challenging and demanding environments. SafeTrx deliver accurate, reliable and robust “tracking and alerting” technology, deployed in 11 countries for maritime rescue and offshore employee protection. Use of this technology offshore is based on existing relationships with SAR organisations such lifeboats and coastguards in 11 countries, including Australia. SafeTrx Protect is used by North Sea Farmers and Oceans of Energy for worker monitoring and alerting in the North Sea, 15km offshore in the Netherlands, where alerts from workers’ wearable devices go directly to the Dutch coastguard and the system is fully tested and supported by Dutch lifeboat organisation KNRM.

For more information on the Gael Offshore Network or any of the companies mentioned in this article, please contact:

Eoin Hughes, Market Executive, Enterprise Ireland Australia/New Zealand

Email: eoin.hughes@enterprise-ireland.com

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