Port capacity is crucial for future offshore wind power

Offshore Turbine whit platform in background


Offshore wind turbines are getting larger and heavier. This is placing new demands on ports. There are great business potentials – and lots of barriers, say both turbine manufacturers and ports. Port capacity will be an important focus area for the CIP Foundation in 2024, and this is a logical extension of the foundation’s proposed roadmap for future hydrogen infrastructure. 

Offshore wind farms will play a crucial role in future energy supply. They will have to meet electricity needs, and they will have to supply energy for hydrogen production to replace fossil fuels in industries and sectors that cannot be electrified. 

Turbines are growing, both in terms of output and physical size. Danish ports will have to cope with these massive new turbines. Quays have to be long enough; they have to take the weight of much heavier turbine components, and channels and harbour basins must be deepened.  

Deployment of new offshore wind energy in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea brings with it great potentials for Danish ports, including as shipping ports for other countries. However, urgent decisions must be made to initiate the expansion required. 

Port capacity is one of the major potential bottlenecks we see ahead. Remember that decisions must be taken seven to ten years before projects are realised. Ports shouldn’t be developed to manage the wind turbines we’re producing today. They should be able to cope with the turbines we’ll be manufacturing in ten to fifteen years’ time, says Keld Kristensen, Head of Offshore Logistics Operations at Vestas.

Analyses of Danish port capacity in relation to the needs of the future are therefore a priority in the CIP Foundation work programme. 

Transport is now by sea

In a slightly backward way, we can all see evidence of how wind turbines are growing. In the past, there was always a risk of being stuck in a long tail-back of traffic behind a turbine-wing transporter on the motorway. Now that’s all over. Today, offshore turbine wings are close to 120 m long. They grew out of motorway transporters long ago. Transport today is by sea. 

The wind industry is growing offshore, and several types of port are required to support the development and make sure we avoid major plans for the deployment of new offshore installations to end up literally stranded on the quayside. 

Production ports, shipping ports and service ports are all needed.  

Service ports are the easiest, and in this context most Danish ports can offer their services: in fact they already are.  

I’ve sat in meetings at all the major Danish ports, says Keld Kristensen

Port directors at strategically located ports are well aware that Vestas is a strong player, and they all want to talk. 

The challenges are far greater with respect to production and shipping ports. There will be a need for massive investment if ports are to manage much larger foundations, towers and wings. 

However, ports need a solid business case, and for good reason, before they let the engineers draw the first lines on blueprints for expansion and reinforcement. Ports must be able to present a plan to demonstrate that expansion is good business. Otherwise they may not be able to attract the necessary capital from external investors. 

Typically, it will take nine-ten months to establish a new offshore wind farm, but because of the size of the investment required, ports will have to be able to guarantee business over several years to pay back their investment. 

Danish ports can become vital

The central location of the Port of Roenne in the Baltic Sea means it has become an important shipping port for offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea. 

There are huge perspectives and opportunities, said Lars Nordahl, CEO of the Port of Roenne. The other Baltic countries face the same problem as Denmark. Looking at the situation positively, the Port of Roenne could become the central shipping port for German, Polish and Swedish projects. 

However, Lars Nordahl points to many barriers to be cleared along the way. 

Right now, there’s no coordination across manufacturers and developers. Furthermore, processing by authorities is very slow when we want to expand and deepen channels, both with regard to planning and for environmental permits. There’s a lack of alignment and collaboration, and therefore processing times become very protracted, he says. 

With regard to service ports, neither Lars Nordahl nor Keld Kristensen see any major problems. Ordinary free competition can determine which ports win the task in the long term. 

On the other hand, only a small group of ports will be able to serve as production ports, because producing and managing turbine wings longer than a football pitch demands a lot of space. 

Production of foundations and shipping also requires space, and turbine wings and towers in both production ports and shipping ports need strong quays and deep channels. 

This is where the dilemma arises, in that ports are a precondition for the future deployment of new offshore wind power, but ports also need secure future revenues if they are to make these major investments. 

Keld Kristensen also stresses the need for a certain geographical spread. 

Current projects need ports within a radius of 150 to 200 nautical miles, and preferably less. Otherwise, transport becomes too costly, he says. 

A wind turbine can be erected in 24 hours

There have been attempts to move tasks offshore, including assembly and fitting. This may ease some of the demands on ports, but Keld Kristensen does not see this as a realistic alternative. 

Today it takes 24 hours from when the installation ship arrives on site to when a complete turbine stands ready. The more we can do onshore, the better. Our rule of thumb is that what we can do for EUR 1 in the factory, costs EUR 10 in the port and EUR 100 at sea, he said.

Whereas today we are installing 15 MW offshore turbines, the turbine sector expects output to double in about 25 years. But that costs greater size and weight. While a 15 MW turbine weighs almost 2,000 tonnes, the upcoming 30 MW turbines will weigh more than 8,000 tonnes. 

This is an indication of the challenges ahead for port capacity. 

Both Lars Nordahl and Keld Kristensen point to a need to look at models of the division of work between ports to ensure the required expansion. We need a hollistic approach with all factors on the table, including processing by authorities, and perhaps most importantly of all, financing models. 

Ports don’t have the capital for the expansion required. The massive and demanding infrastructure development calls for long-term investment. If we are to attract capital to expand our installations, we also need some degree of security that we will be able to attract business, says Lars Nordahl. 

He also points to possible good returns from both a micro-economic and macro-economic perspective. 

Right now we have projects stretching forward to 2028. We’re also at the leading port in the area for all the Baltic Sea. Competition from Polish, German and Swedish ports is currently very limited. But in our business area, decisions on expansion have to be taken in good time. That’s why we have to act now if we are to make sure we’re not overtaken by others, says the Roenne CEO.

If ports are to have capital for development, it is important to establish certainty for future supply of offshore wind energy, so that the market has a clear investment signal on which to act. The political ambition is in place, but when construction is to start, and by whom, remains unknown.