BizMDOSW: Offshore Wind Market Ripe for US Tech Surge (Interview)

The United States has a lot to offer on the digitization of offshore wind, especially regarding artificial intelligence which can make the supply chain more efficient and potentially speed up the permitting and siting processes, Liz Burdock, President and CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, said in an interview with Offshore WIND.

Source: Navingo BV
Source: Navingo BV

The U.S. can excel in the whole area of technology and software and can offer the wider offshore wind industry much quicker gathering and synthesizing of data, Burdock said at the Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference (OEEC) in Amsterdam.

The states are dealing with cybersecurity lessons that can be applied to the European market, Burdock adds, emphasizing that it just remains to bring the technology companies into the industry.

“It’s just getting those innovative companies to understand the offshore wind market and what the potential opportunity is world-wide. It is a USD 170 billion market that is going to be developed, so it is a huge market for them, it is just a matter of whether they will see the opportunity and diversify it in the sector,” Burdock said.

The United States has already contributed to the offshore wind market by sharing expertise from the oil & gas industry it derived from, Burdock said. However, it does not stop there. Burdock believes further lessons from oil & gas can be extrapolated, specifically to the area of floating offshore wind.

Currently home to only one operational offshore wind farm, the 30MW Block Island, Burdock claims there is a lot the U.S. can learn from Europe about the development of the market, including lessons on health and safety, training, development of required port infrastructure, as well as efficiency and innovation.

I feel that Europe can bring over innovative solutions that might not be as accepted in the European market because it has been operating for 20 years and sometimes you get set in your patterns. But the U.S. is a blank slate and there is ability to bring over innovations that we can learn from to help drive down costs even further.

The U.S. is also using the European know-how about the supply chain as the local one is “pretty nascent. Burdock claims that understanding coopetition is one of the important lessons as there will always be competition, but the industry is big and there is more than enough work for everyone if there is a large enough supply chain pipeline.

The Business Network for Offshore Wind is also trying to move the concept of coopetition above company-level by illustrating to the states that they can cooperate and compete at the same time.

“Where two businesses may compete for the primary contract, they will probably end up working together to deliver the project. That is one thing we have learned, and we are already seeing it now in the pre-development stages in the U.S.,” according to Burdock.

A standards-setting process is now taking place in the states and a lot of the work being done will include lessons learned from Europe, as well as incorporating them into the national standards, Burdock concluded.

Dedication to Four States

Earlier this summer, the Network committed to helping Maryland, New York, Virginia and New Jersey develop offshore wind projects by consulting on supply chain development.

The organization is doing “multi-faceted work” in Maryland, where they received a multi-year contract with the state to develop the supply chain through a whole host of different activities, whitepapers, supply chain meetings and research projects.

In New York, the Network has helped in developing a database of supply chain companies, and in Virginia is part of a team that is looking to assess the port infrastructure and the existent companies in the state that can participate in the industry.

In the state that is currently the leader with a 3.5GW by 2030 target, New Jersey, the Network is part of a team that is readying the state’s offshore wind strategic plan. The works began some three months ago, and the organization is currently in the process of advising the Bureau of Public Utilities (BPU) on the first solicitation and how the supply chain should be developed through it.

“It’s very different across the different states, much as you would expect because each state is different. But we are really looking out at what are the assets that each state has and can bring to the offshore wind industry and how do we enhance them,” Burdock said.

Talking about New Jersey, Burdock thinks the state is leading because it had taken “a hiatus from the offshore wind industry.” Namely, New Jersey passed an offshore wind legislation in 2006 that should have provided a financing mechanism for a project, but it sat dormant for years and was not acted on during Governor Chris Christie’s administration.

“New Jersey has been able to take advantage of seeing what other states have done, what Europe has done in the meantime during that time period. They really assessed how they should move forward and how they can move forward quickly to lead,” Burdock stated.

Burdock added that the current Governor Phil Murphy and the state have done a lot of initiatives that position them in the first place, such as giving a clear and transparent schedule and process, as well as providing scale and setting up a system and stable policy that the industry feels very secure about.

California’s 100% Renewables Target

In September, California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed a Senate bill committing to achieve a 100% renewable energy target by the end of 2045, which, the Network said, will position the state to reap the benefits of offshore wind by including it as a key resource.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently issued a Call for Information and Nominations to identify companies interested in commercial wind energy leases within three proposed areas consisting of 85 whole Outer Continental Shelf blocks and 573 partial blocks off central and northern California.

The non-profit is currently expanding its operations in the state, so it can bring in the stakeholders and the supply chain to talk to the policy makers and educate them on the benefits of offshore wind and its potential role.

However, the position offshore wind will take in reaching the target is still undecided, but it can become clearer if the industry engages early with the state, Burdock said. So far, the state head is requiring that a plan is put in place by 2021 on what the energy portfolio mix is going to be.

If the industry does not coalesce quickly in California and is not part of these discussions, it is not guaranteed that offshore wind will really have a big part in the state’s energy plan. However, getting to a 100% renewable energy without offshore wind will be, in my estimation, very hard to do.”

According to Burdock, offshore wind could complement the vast solar technology installed in California, which would even out the duck curve.

The U.S. Outlook

When asked about what she thinks the U.S. offshore wind market will look like in some 20 years, Burdock said she envisions it to be somewhere between 30GW and 40GW, or maybe even higher, but that depends on how quickly costs can be reduced.

To achieve the ambitions, costs need to be reduced gradually, not at an accelerated pace and not reliant upon the European supply chain, but reliant on the U.S. supply chain, according to Burdock.

Burdock claims the next wave of purchasing beyond the states has to come from corporations, just like the solar and onshore wind industries have done, and that is fueling the renewable energy market.

“If we can get that next wave of corporate purchasing occurring with lower prices, I do not really see any end in sight for the offshore wind market. We have 86GW of potential by 2050 and I think we can really get to half of that by 2030 easily, or in 20 years,” said Burdock.

Check out the summary of Liz Burdock’s speech at this year’s OEEC HERE.

Written by Nadja Skopljak; Editing by Adrijana Buljan and Adnan Duraković; Offshore WIND staff