THE GERMAN OFFSHORE WIND INDUSTRY RELIES ON SPECIALIST VESSELS FROM ABROAD – AN INTERVIEW WITH OFFSHORE SHIPBROKER MROSS
The German offshore wind industry relies on specialist vessels from abroad – an interview with offshore shipbroker Mross
HAMBURG. The offshore shipbrokers of German Renewables Shipbrokers (GRS) have some 70,000 ships in their database. In an interview with our editor Wolfgang Ehrecke, GRS managing director Matthias Mross explains what types of vessels will help to implement the German energy transition and what opportunities and challenges lie in the German Bight.
»Small shipping companies with six or seven vessels, especially for crew transfer are mushrooming in the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands. If these shipping companies didn’t exist, neither would offshore wind energy in Germany.«
MATTHIAS MROSS, GERMAN RENEWABLES SHIPBROKERS
Matthias Mross, half a dozen offshore wind farms are currently under construction. If this figure rises, will there be enough special ships available for installing the turbines?
The market is divided up into two sections. With regard to the 30 to 40 wind turbine installation vessels available in the North Sea and chartered long term, some availabilitly still exist. However, in 2015 this slight oversupply may already be a thing of the past. For the summer period we’ve already had several short-term spot-market requests and the market for these vessels will then become very competitive. Nevertheless, an installation vessel is only part of an overall concept. About 20 to 30 ships are involved in building a wind farm. And even in the case of offshore supply ships, or other service tonnage, considerable shortages can arise due to short-term demand in the summer months.
What types of vessels are needed in particular to make the energy transition a reality in the German Bight?
A wide variety of ships, from small workboats to pontoons, up to large platform supply vessels equipped with positioning systems. This technology enables them to keep positioned at one place at sea and perform all types of work.
And does this technology come from the oil industry?
Yes, but it’s a market that’s difficult and much in demand. The oil and gas market has a lot of maintenance jobs for the platform supply ships in summer, which can cause charter rates to rise steeply. Therefore we recommend that our customers secure tonnage at an early stage.
What other types of vessels are required for wind farm construction?
Various, smaller types of supply ships and workboats and the roughly 20 to 25-meter long crew transfer vessels, in short CTVs. We are talking about boats that in general transport 12 people back and forth between the wind turbines and the accommodation ships. It’s also a fiercely contested market.
Why is that?
While there is basically a large number of CTVs on the market, it’s only a relatively limited number that is permitted to work in Germany. To do so, they need certification by the German Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) and the German Employers’ Liability Insurance Association. Therefore, the number of CTVs, which just about everyone needs, is very limited. However, there is a shortage of vessels that are ideal for staying out at sea in high swells for a long time.
So this official permit creates a bottleneck in the market?
Wind farms in the UK are very near shore, while German wind farms are located far out at sea. This is perhaps the reason why requirements differ. However, we’ve seen cases in the past where suitable vessels of the same type were treated differently when trying to obtain the certificate for crew transfer. In this case, we would like clearer regulations, because most vessels involved sail under foreign flags.
Why is that?
To date, German shipping companies have not been so active in the oil and gas business. Apart from a few exceptions, they can’t quite make up their minds whether to build appropriate fleets. We now need to go down a different path. For example, we’re bringing many shipping companies from the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and the UK onto the German market so that we're in a position to complete our installation programme at all.
For several years, ship financing has started to become difficult. How significantly does this affect your business?
Shipping companies repeatedly approach us and say we could build this or that type of specialist vessel. However, to obtain full financing we need a charter of five years or longer. But in the offshore wind industry this isn’t financially viable. More than a nine-month charter is generally not possible at the construction stage. In Germany, businesses are less inclined to take on the risks of entering this new market.
What’s the situation in neighbouring countries?
Banks and investors in Denmark and in the United Kingdom with experience in the oil and gas business tend to be more willing to embark on these types of ventures. Small shipping companies with six or seven vessels, especially for crew transfer, are mushrooming in the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands. If these shipping companies didn’t exist, the offshore wind energy in Germany wouldn’t either.
Shouldn’t German shipyards be more closely involved in this market segment?
The German shipyards have come up with good designs for installation vessels. However, the German companies predominantly have their sights on large-scale tonnage, not 20 and 30-meter boats. Large tonnage is just one segment where new ships are required, the other market segment is the smaller CTVs. There is a huge demand here. It would help if supply were larger, also because the technological development of these vehicles is surging ahead. But the word goes that building these small boats isn’t worth it for some German companies.
Where’s the trend for CTVs heading?
Vessels that were designed 10 or 15 years ago, have now fallen into disuse, even five- to six-year-old ships are considered a problem. Mono-hull designs are outdated. The trend is veering towards cost-effective catamarans and trimarans that have very little lift in the bow section and more lift in the stern section, and to swath and semi-swath hulls. As a result, the level of wave heights is rising, up to which a ship can operate and people can step over via the bow onto a wind turbine out at sea. Because the longer crews can work outside, even in bad weather, the better.
Because the grid operator has not yet connected the wind farms to the onshore grid, offshore development is currently stalling – when do you expect the situation to improve?
The industry still needs to gain more experience. We see ourselves as intermediaries who bring the right people together. Companies learn a lot from each other and from our European neighbours. We should say a swift farewell to the typical German characteristic of wanting to re-invent the wheel. Then things could gain momentum in one to two years from now.
NORDSEE-ZEITUNG issue 16.03.2013