Offshore construction: It takes a giant to know a giant

For the second 2016 edition of the Offshore WIND Magazine, we spoke to Blair Ainslie, CEO of Seajacks, on the company’s past and future projects, as well as the industry in general.

Seajacks made its first dive into the offshore wind industry in 2009, when its jack-up vessel Seajacks Leviathan carried out the installation of Siemens’ 3.6MW turbines at the Greater Gabbard wind farm site, after being hired by Fluor, the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor on the project.

It takes a giant to know a giant

Leviathan was built primarily with a view of the oil and gas market because, at the time, offshore wind was only just starting to take the large-scale form, Seajacks’ CEO Blair Ainslie told Offshore WIND. In fact, the first two vessels were built according to oil and gas specification developed together with Shell years ago. However, Seajacks decided to make some modifications to enable the vessels to work in both areas, in case offshore wind industry would gain momentum. “And, of course, since 2009 it has grown quite dramatically”, Ainslie said.

Having the necessary equipment and more than 20 years of offshore construction experience gained in the oil and gas market allowed the company to smoothly enter the brand new offshore market, according to Ainslie, who explained: “We are an offshore construction and offshore contracting organisation, so we were fully prepared for the environment, because we know it extremely well.”

Veja Mate tests Seajacks Scylla’s mettle

Seajacks Scylla, the world’s largest wind installation vessel, is installing the world’s heaviest monopiles, manufactured by EEW Special Pipe Constructions at the Veja Mate offshore wind farm in Germany. Scylla is carrying three XL monopiles per transit and is scheduled to install all 67 by the end of autumn 2016. In May, Seajacks Zaratan started installing the transition pieces at the Veja Mate wind farm site.

Last year, DONG Energy also signed an agreement with Seajacks, under which the Scylla will install all 87 wind turbines at the Walney Extension offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea. The vessel is scheduled to mobilise in the summer of 2017 and complete the work around the same time the following year.

Fleet expansion likely to happen

When asked if there is room for another Scylla within the company’s fleet, Ainslie said: “It’s highly likely that the next vessel we build would be another Scylla replica, but the market has been tough over the last year or two, so the decision to build another vessel will not be made in the next
few months, but we have not stopped with our research and development and continue to review conceptual designs and improvements on another vessel.”

Seajacks has a total of five vessels, three of which are smaller vessels built mainly for the oil and gas market, but also for offshore wind operations and maintenance (O&M). These vessels originally installed 3.6MW turbines, but since the market is moving to bigger turbines, they will be employed in a mix of offshore wind maintenance, oil and gas O&M, and well intervention. The company is not planning any upgrades to the existing fleet. 

A ‘fifty-fifty’ company always eyeing new markets

Being 100 per cent owned by Japanese shareholders, Marubeni Corporation and Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ), Seajacks is ready to tap into the opportunities in the Far East market, even though the offshore wind industry is still not established there, and is maybe three or four years away from the first project.

Seajacks’ countries of interest there are Japan, Taiwan, Korea, with some opportunities being explored in China as well. Ainslie revealed that the company was looking into several opportunities at the time, some in the offshore wind, and some in the oil and gas industries.

Regarding the offshore wind market in the United States, Ainslie said it is in a similar position – there are many plans, but nothing has happened yet. However, Seajacks is keeping an eye on the developments there and if there is an opportunity, the company will look into it. He further highlighted that Seajacks is a “fifty-fifty” company, with the fleet of five vessels, all of which can work in both oil and gas and offshore wind sectors.

Offshore side of things

Regarding the industry’s development in the future, Ainslie said the targets for reducing the cost of offshore wind power are already within reach, and that he believes the main target – a situation where offshore wind subsidies are no longer required – will be achieved in the next ten years.

For Seajacks, there are two markets within the offshore wind sector – foundation installation and turbine installation. “I think it is highly unlikely that the physical size of the turbines will increase greatly. Companies like MHI Vestas and Siemens are developing existing products and generating more power by changing components. For example, Siemens’ 6MW is already a Siemens 7MW, and Vestas’ 3MW is now able to generate 3.5MW. In ten years, who knows, maybe they will get bigger, but it depends on the efficiency of turbines.”

Nevertheless, Ainslie said he believes there will be more offshore wind turbines in water depths much greater than 50 metres, sitting on much bigger foundations.

When asked about what should be improved within the offshore wind sector, he said that there is a little bit of a misunderstanding when it comes to risks. “A lot of people would say that the offshore side of things is risky, specifically the offshore construction. Actually, offshore construction is not as risky as people may think when it is handled by experienced operators.”

Companies like Seajacks, which operate in the offshore environment, have got a very good handle on what the risks are and can measure them very well, according to Ainslie.

The full article can be read in the second 2016 edition of the Offshore WIND Magazine.

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