(c) Arup; (c) Arup;

Offshore wind: what can Asia learn from Europe?

Europe has shown how offshore wind can provide utility-scale renewable electricity as cheaply as well-established forms of generation such as combined-cycle gas turbines. Can Asia follow Europe’s lead to fast-track its offshore wind installation? Yes, and no.

Outside China, Asia can gain a lot from adopting and improving European approaches, and from working with European contractors. After all, the European industry has pioneered offshore wind technology including large-scale turbines, subsea cabling, offshore foundations and installation vessels as well as commercial and finance systems. However, crucial geographical and cultural differences must be taken into account – and for some of these there is no substitute for locally available expertise.

Favourable policies for wind farm projects

In late 2016, a change in Japan’s Ports and Harbour Law enabled offshore wind farm developers to build in water zones close to existing ports. This led to the development of the country’s first ever large-scale commercial offshore wind farm close to the Akita and Noshiro Ports in the Akita prefecture.

Arup’s local and international teams worked successfully with local EPC contractors and the local regulators, Class NK, to develop the designs of these initial offshore wind projects in the region, paving the way to establish accepted design processes that will be followed on all subsequent projects. This is the first design to be approved by the local statutory checking authority in Japan, and expertise on the ground has proved vital in steering the project through this process.

The Japanese parliament passed further legislation in 2019 allowing development of offshore wind in deep water and other areas outside ports and harbours. This has opened the market substantially as ports and harbours cover just 1.5% of Japan’s territorial waters.

Estimated capacity for the top five markets in Asia for new installations

1. China 52GW

2. Taiwan 10.5GW

3. Korea 7.9GW

4. Japan 7.4GW

5. Vietnam 5.2GW

(Source: Asia Pacific to Become Largest Offshore Wind Power Market by 2030)

Asia has learnt from, and improved on, the procurement approach taken in Europe. Taiwan, Japan and Korea have moved more quickly than Europe did from feed-in tariff schemes to an auction process or renewable energy certification system to encourage more competitive supply chains.

What about the companies in these supply chains? The UK and Europe were in an open market, so local consultants, designers and contractors developed supply chains through organic growth to service the work locally with minimal encroachment by non-European companies. Asia is in a more favourable situation, with the involvement of experienced European consultants and contractors enabling them to develop their own skills faster through technology transfer.

Fulfilling Asia’s potential

Taiwan, the first in the region to act on a commercial scale, encouraged many established European contractors to join its auctions independently. The aspiration has been to develop, through compulsory engagement with local manufacturers and suppliers, a local supply chain which will be able to serve not only the Taiwanese markets but also the rest of Asia. Offering the best of both worlds, it’s an approach that is proving very successful.

Japan and Korea have well established contracting bases, with the necessary knowledge, experience and equipment to undertake large-scale infrastructure projects. However, they lack experience in offshore wind, having not been involved in the European projects. So, a pragmatic approach based on alliancing with established European contractors is seen as the best way to learn quickly. These alliances have been formed and are preparing for the initial auctions.

Overcoming local challenges

These consortia and other players will face technical challenges not encountered in Europe – including typhoons, high seismicity, soft marine deposits and hard volcanic and sedimentary rock seabeds. Overcoming these challenges will require new methods of analysis and stronger structures. For example, monopiles, used for 90% of European developments, may not always be suitable in Asia. They have been the most commonly used foundation type in Europe due to their lower cost (thanks to their simplicity to fabricate and construct) and their ability to be hammered or vibrated deeply into the competent seabed stratum, typically consisting of either sand, silt, medium to hard clays – or a mixture. Many of the most promising areas in Asia do not share such conditions and have soft marine clays, hard volcanic and sedimentary rocks, deep faulting, seismic activity with liquefaction potential to deal with.

Alternative foundation systems may therefore need to be found in certain situations – including piled jackets, suction buckets or even self-installing gravity-based structures. Requiring no piles and no specialised installation vessels, gravity-based structures maximise the use of both local labour and materials. They could present an attractive option for many locations in Asia.

In addition, the limited availability of shallow water depths less than 50m could see the advent and rapid development of commercial scale floating offshore systems, especially in the waters around Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Indeed, floating wind is one area where we could see Asia’s wind industry develop to compete with, and even surpass, Europe. The region has a track record, in areas such as automotive manufacturing, of producing technology that improves upon current solutions, making them cheaper and more efficient on a commercial scale – factors that are key to the successful development and adoption of floating offshore wind.

Whatever the specific technology, local expertise will be key. At Arup, we’re seeing clients across Asia looking for sophisticated engineering skills – including advanced soil-structure interaction analysis, hydrodynamic interaction analysis as well as seismic and extreme wind and wave assessments and modelling – for their offshore wind projects, to cater for the local conditions. Seeing the rapid progression of the market, we’ve invested in building our capability locally – because we firmly believe that marrying the best of European experience with Asian opportunities and local expertise is the right approach to unlock a market expected to reach 100GW of installed capacity by 2030.

Combining the benefits of Europe’s experience and innovation with Asia’s proven ability to develop and improve manufacturing approaches represents a tremendous opportunity for Asia to emerge as a powerhouse of offshore wind. And that can only be a good thing for the world as a whole.