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Thought Leadership / August 15, 2023

Taking inspiration from the bayou

By Jason Wormald

For centuries, investments in ports have boosted local and national GDP in the places they are situated. International trade is a crucial feature of most developed economies, so enabling trade and encouraging investments into ports typically bring positive results. As the world transitions to renewable energy, some in the floating offshore wind industry are clamouring for governments to invest in port infrastructure.

But building floating wind farms require a massive amount of space. Beyond the fact that the gigantic platforms, towers, and turbines need space to be fabricated, dredging is required to create the water depth needed for these huge structures to float alongside the extended platforms built for loading and unloading ships, called quays. Massive cranes lift nacelles—the covering house containing wind turbine components—to the top of the towers, which are built on platforms tethered alongside the quays. Plus, the wind turbines need to be laid down for installation, and anyone who has seen one in person can testify to their impressive size.

The scale of construction for platforms/turbines and dredging for transporting them is, in most cases, quite enormous, and the vision shown inspires admiration. However, the investment costs to modify ports, shipyards, and equipment for floating offshore wind can be untenable for local and regional governments and investors, so it is imperative to examine the need for the infrastructure overhaul carefully. A sticking point for many ports is that the investment would not enable international trade but rather turn ports into construction yards, disrupting or stifling commerce activities. Additionally, even if investment is made into ports, those upgrades will create a new bottleneck for the industry with high costs and long lead times.

If a floating offshore wind platform is around 80m across, the required wharf to build it would likely have dimensions close to 100m x 100m. Assuming the construction process takes eight weeks, and one finished platform is needed each week, then eight 10,000m2 fabrication areas would be required to facilitate a feasible offshore wind production site. Only a few ports around the world have 80,000m2 of flat, load-bearing areas available. Thus, it would require a massive investment to create additional fabrication space, not to mention higher costs and untimely delays.

But what if the floating offshore wind platform were made of modules fabricated and painted in a different location? What if it could be delivered on a barge in separate pieces and assembled into a completed platform in three days? In that case, instead of creating additional construction space or adding additional, costly time to the process, just one 10,000m2 area could deliver one platform weekly. Gazelle Wind Power’s modular design, next-generation engineering, and hybrid architecture mean a platform can be built at already-operational facilities utilizing standard equipment and transported to the port for assembly.

Gazelle’s platform can be assembled on a 100m x 100m quay side or on a floating platform fitted with fixtures to enable rapid construction. It means the only wharf space required would be for the crane, and the modules would be lifted directly from a barge to the assembly fixture vessel. In this scenario, the wharf space requirements are well within what many ports offer.

Finally, due to its exceptionally low draft, the Gazelle platform reduces or eliminates the impact of dredging, a source of contention in many waterways. The financial cost of dredging is significant, creating another expense and potential barrier to investment and support. Plus, dredging creates serious environmental concerns, but we will touch on those issues in a different article.

One must look to a place like the Louisiana Bayou for inspiration to avoid dredging. The people living and working there did not reshape the environment to fit their ships but adjusted their boats to fit their surroundings. Called airboats, they have flat bottoms and are powered by fans rather than motors or propellers, enabling them to traverse shallow waters.

If we think of floating offshore wind platforms as vessels, we can compare the Gazelle platforms to the bayou airboats. Our platforms can be designed to work with the water depth available in a port and can have a draft as shallow as 4.5m with a 15MW wind turbine generator on board.

Innovation can eliminate much of the need for floating offshore wind to create additional port infrastructure costs. By adjusting floating platform design to fit the environment, rather than the other way around, the industry can work with existing facilities to ramp up production instead of creating bottlenecks by forcing costly and lengthy transformations like expansions, redesigns, or retrofits.

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