‘Collaborate with Non-Obvious Partners’ – Offshore Energy Industry Talks Innovation and Speeding Things Up 

The offshore wind industry, now the linchpin between several offshore energy industries, is calling for both innovation and accelerating deployment, while also making sure one does not impede the progress of the other.  

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During the ‘Renewable energy: Innovate or accelerate?’ conference session during the Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference 2023 (OEEC 2023), the speakers warned about focusing too much on innovation, noting that it could slow down the build-out (of offshore wind) – but also made the case for innovation in helping the industry accelerate on the path towards reaching the targets for 2030 and beyond.  

“We need to keep innovating for many reasons; to deploy assets quickly, but also to ensure that we fabricate components in a fast way, that we have a positive impact on the environment, as well as creating a win-win scenario for other marine space users,” said Daniel Santa Cruz, Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship Director at Ocean Winds.  

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Santa Cruz further added that in renewable energy, businesses need to collaborate with non-obvious partners such as their competitors in order to accelerate innovation, and highlighted how this is already going on in offshore wind.  

“It is quite unique for the offshore wind industry that competitors such as project developers are willingly cooperating,” Santa Cruz said.  

Looking at where innovation ought to take a slower pace as targets need to be reached by deploying more offshore wind turbines – and fast! – Liz Burdock, President and CEO at Oceantic Network (formerly The Business Network for Offshore Wind) pointed out that there had to come the time when the industry focuses less on constant innovations and more on building the capacity. 

This is especially in offshore wind, where components are growing in size almost by the day.  

“The vessels are rolling off the line, and they are already obsolete,” Burdock said. “There has to come the time when we say enough is enough.”  

The Industry Moving Forward Hand in Hand

One thing we learned during this year’s OEEC conference is that, as challenges on the global political and economic scenes keep arising, the offshore energy sector is pushing forward by leaving the old ways of doing things and reinventing the tools to better roll down the path towards 2050 net-zero goal.  

In the times we’re living in, that means approaching projects and business with flexibility and agility. It also means not putting innovation aside in order to focus on accelerating the energy transition – as innovation has now become the very thing that can speed things up.   

While the sector has rolled up sleeves to deploy as many clean energy projects as possible and catch up with any delays presented by unfavourable market conditions, the governments are hard at work on making that possible, too, as their national and regional targets await.  

However, with so many moving parts and with already stretched supply chains, the conversation between all the offshore energy industries, their supply chains, governments, as well as environmental organisations needs to continue day in, day out.  

Now more than ever, the industries once contained by their respective unique characteristics and requirements are brought together by a world in progress, led by new technologies and new ways of thinking. This progress, in the offshore energy realm, means more attention given to nature, industry-wide application of digitalisation, and now also acceptance of AI solutions.  

At OEEC 2023, the connection between the different offshore energy industries and the extraordinary number of innovative solutions were at the forefront of almost every conversation and visible at almost every exhibitor stand.  

Offshore Wind: The Targets, the Bottlenecks, the Solutions 

At the conference session ‘Offshore wind: Business as unusual’, the industry took on the topic of reaching ambitious offshore wind targets with the current challenges in the industry.  

The insights were provided by Renkse Ytsma, Director/SVP Offshore Wind Development Continental Europe at RWE; Wilfried Vandersippe, Offshore Wind Business Development Director Eastern and Northern Europe at TotalEnergies; Frank Oomen, Head of Offshore Wind Benelux at BP; Ruben Dijkstra, Managing Director Benelux region at Ørsted; and Tore Guldbrandsøy, SVP & Head of Benelux at Rystad Energy.  

“The main challenge for offshore wind in the next decade will be how to  integrate all of the electrons produced into the energy mix,” Frank Oomen, Head of Offshore Wind Benelux at bp, said. 

Ruben Dijkstra, Managing Director Benelux at Orsted has urged the governments to go beyond just setting new capacity targets to provide more certainty for the developers. “We need to synchronize the demand with the build-out, otherwise, the industry will fail,” Dijkstra said.  

“We talk about challenges a lot, but what we have ahead of us is a great opportunity,” Renkse Ytsma, Director/SVP Offshore Wind Development Continental Europe at RWE. “Let’s start delivering what we already have.” 

The offshore wind supply chain, although experiencing pressure as targets are high and vessels are few, has now got new ship designs that are poised to move the boundaries of seagoing vessels we know today.  

During OEEC 2023, Damen launched its SOV 7017 E, deemed the world’s first fully electric offshore wind Service Operations Vessel, and GustoMSC presented its Enhydra series, a Modular Service Operations Vessel (MSOV) designed specifically for the floating wind market.  

Hydrogen: Building Roads for Green Molecules

In 2020, the European Commission proposed a hydrogen strategy that aims to accelerate the development of green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis using renewable energy. In June last year, the US launched an USD 8 billion program to fund regional clean (green) hydrogen hubs.   

In October this year, Denmark closed what was the world’s first Power-to-X tender, for which only the projects that produced hydrogen from renewable energy sources and those that meet the EU’s documentation requirements for green Power-to-X fuels were eligible.  

This summer, the European Commission approved a €246 million Dutch scheme to support the production of renewable hydrogen. The Netherlands will support the construction of at least 60 MW of electrolysis capacity through its subsidy scheme.  

The Hollandse Kust Noord offshore wind farm, soon to be put into operation by the developer CrossWind (a joint venture between Shell and Eneco), will comprise an offshore green hydrogen production and storage plant.  

Neptune Energy and RWE are developing a pilot project for the production of green hydrogen in the Netherlands, called H2opZee, which will use offshore wind energy for the production of hydrogen in the Dutch sector of the North Sea and an existing pipeline to transport the hydrogen to land. 

Just this month, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP), French green hydrogen production specialist Lhyfe, and Finnish Flexens entered into a partnership to develop a large-scale hydrogen production facility on Åland, integrated with gigawatt-scale offshore wind installed in Åland waters. The project is called the Åland Energy Island as it is based on the concept of an integrated energy island solution. 

Offshore Energy Conference this year got to hear the latest insights from Lex de Groot, Managing Director at Neptune Energy; Miriam Bardolet Pou, Director Energy Transition Fund at Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners; Maria Kalogera, Innovations Manager at CrossWind; and Eric Vennix, Partner Consulting at Deloitte. 

During the OEEC conference session ‘Hydrogen: the great connector’, Eric Vennix, Partner Consulting at Deloitte said: “Hydrogen will play a very important role, especially in hard-to-abate sectors. A lot of offshore assets will be required to support the growth of hydrogen production.” 

Vennix went on to say that the requirements necessary to make it happen include innovative financing mechanisms, public-private partnerships, new commercial or business models and supply chain collaboration.  

Lex de Groot, Managing Director at Neptune Energy, said that hydrogen was a very important element in the energy transition, an element we need but which has its hurdles. “When you go through all the hurdles you learn very much, but in order to do so you need to start doing it,” De Groot said.  

Marine Energy and System integration: All the Renewable Energy We Can Get

Marine energies such as wave, tidal and floating solar are no longer only standalone industries pushing their way through to industry maturity, but are now becoming part of plans that would ensure big offshore energy projects, such as offshore wind farms, use every square meter of their respective site to produce electricity.  

An example of this is the Hollandse Kust West Site VII in the Netherlands, which was secured by RWE in a tender last year and will include both offshore wind and floating solar technologies.  

In addition to renewable energy generation, energy storage and new grid technologies are poised to be integrated in these projects in the future.   

With a few projects involving multiple energy sources already coming up in the Netherlands, our conference session organized in collaboration with the Dutch Marine Energy Center (DMEC) took on the task of bringing more light to how the integrated systems work and how the different components work in this setup. 

The many technologies of the offshore energy sector and their (potential) applications were discussed at the conference session ‘Multi-source offshore energy parks: paving the way’ by Daniel Buhagiar from FLASC B.V.; Allard van Hoeken from Oceans of Energy; Pim Somers from Stichting De Noordzee and Don Hoogendoorn from SolarDuck. The session was moderated by Simon Stark from DMEC (Dutch Marine Energy Centre). 

Don Hoogendoorn from SolarDuck said the 2030 ambition is to deploy 1 GW of floating solar per year in the North Sea. 

Speaking about multi-source offshore energy parks, Pim Somers, Project Manager Nature-Friendly Offshore Energy at the North Sea Foundation, noted the importance of taking care of nature. 

Somers says that increased offshore activity has an impact on the ecosystem in the North Sea and human activities have resulted in a biodiversity crisis and an ecosystem out of balance. He highlighted that when looking at multi-source offshore energy parks, we should take an ecosystem approach. “Nature is your ally in the energy transition,” Pim Somers said. 

Nature-Positive and Sustainable Solutions: Sea of Opportunities 

“A healthy market framework is crucial to turn future wind farms into healthy projects, and making the industry healthy. We need to get rid of financial criteria and introduce more qualitative criteria,” Ireen Geerbex, Director Market Development the Netherlands at Vattenfall, said during the OEEC 2023 conference session ‘Offshore Energy: Business for the Better’. 

Asked if she had a magic wand, which things she would change in the project selection process, Geerbex said: “I would increase the pre-selection criteria in the tenders. I would add an open-box criteria, that is where the magic happens. If you invite developers to bring their best proposals forward, we would all be impressed.” 

This year, Vattenfall completed the Hollandse Kust Zuid Wind Farm, currently the world’s largest offshore wind farm in operation.  

The Rich North Sea programme and Vattenfall have been jointly investigating the possibilities for improving native biodiversity at the site by installing water replenishment holes in the hollow foundations of the wind turbines, which can serve as a shelter and feeding place for fish, crabs and shrimps. 

Marjolein Kelder, Senior Project Lead Natuur & Milieu at The Rich North Sea was also among the speakers at the session, together with Folkert Visser, CEO and Project Director at Ecowende; and Bas Nekeman, Business Unit Director Foundations Northern Europe at DEME Offshore. 

The Rich North Sea programme is also working with Orsted at the Borssele I & II offshore wind farm, Blauwwind at the Borssele III & IV offshore wind farm, and has Offshore Test Site locations for testing solutions for offshore wind farms at a smaller scale. 

Ecowende, a joint venture between Shell and Eneco, won the Dutch offshore wind tender for the Hollandse Kust West VI in December 2022. Site VII was secured by RWE which, along with floating solar, is also planned to be nature-inclusive.

In September, Ecowende partnered with Waardenburg Ecology – the largest ecological consultancy firm in the Netherlands – to develop a comprehensive ecological program for the offshore wind farm it will build at the Hollandse Kust West Site VI. 

Speaking about nature-positive approach in the offshore wind industry, Bas Nekeman, Business Unit Director Foundations Northern Europe at DEME Offshore, said: “In the future, we should not build wind farms, but rather nature parks with some turbines in it.” 

Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference 2023: Onwards with the Sector

Under the theme Changing Currents, the exhibitors and conference speakers at this year’s OEEC have shown just through how much change the offshore energy sector is going – and in what direction offshore wind, hydrogen, marine energy, as well as oil and gas, and their entire supply chains are moving.  

Nature-inclusiveness and care for the environment at large with sustainable, circular and CO2-free initiatives were also at the forefront of this year’s event in Amsterdam. We expect environmental solutions and methodologies to also be one of the main parts of our upcoming events, starting already next year. 

The 2023 edition has also set the stage for the Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference 2024 as, amidst all the current changes and for a good part because of them, the industries within the offshore energy sector are moving closer together, becoming intertwined and in more than one way depending on each other.  

This is why the umbrella theme for OEEC 2024 will be Harmony, through which we want not only to highlight the segments where offshore energy players and various stakeholders are working together, but also to invite the entire sector, governments and environmental organisations to take the collaborations to the next, more close-knit level.  

The Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference 2024 will be held on November 26 and 27, 2024.  

For an overview of the OEEC 2023, go to our event page and check out the video.