Turbine Niche Explored

Offshore Project Cements Taiwan’s Renewable Ambitions

By Amy McLellan

Two years ago, two turbines with a combined capacity of 8 megawatts began operations some 3 kilometers off the coast of Miaoli, Taiwan. It was the first real test of the country’s offshore wind potential. The demonstration project, led by a subsidiary of leading manufacturer of corrosion-resistant materials Swancor Holding, was clearly a success.

Today the Formosa 1 Offshore Wind Farm has moved into second phase, which involves the installation of 20 6-megawatt turbines to take total capacity of Taiwan’s first offshore commercial-scale windfarm to 128 megawatts. And while it is the first, it will certainly not be the last in a country that has ambitions to become an offshore wind center in the Asia-Pacific.

The Formosa 1 Offshore Wind project, which Swancor Renewables had been progressing since 2013, gained real traction in early 2017 when, with the test turbines being readied for commissioning, international partners came on board: Danish green energy giant Ørsted took 35 percent, Japanese energy group JERA 25 percent and investment bank Macquarie Capital 25 percent. Swancor retained 15 percent. Tenders went out and experts in offshore wind construction and installation were hired, among them Spain’s Siemens Gamesa for the turbines and Luxembourg-headquartered engineering firm Jan de Nul Group, which secured the contract for design, procurement and installation of the wind turbine foundations in May 2018.

Starting Blocks

The contract to build the 20 foundation monopiles was awarded to EEW SPC in Rostock, Germany, which began work in Autumn 2018. This was the German company’s first offshore wind project in Asia, having secured the contract following its success working with Jan de Nul on 51 monopile foundations for the Nobelwind project in Belgium.

Then came the huge task of transporting the steel structures – which varied in size, with the heaviest weighing 1,250 tonnes – from fabrication yards in northern Europe to the Port of Taichung, Taiwan, the marshalling harbor for the project. This is where Hamburg-based United Heavy Lift came in.

“We could see very quickly that utilizing the normal heavy-lift vessel as we would in northern Europe would not be economical so we came up with an innovative solution using our deck carrier,” said Andreas Rolner, United Heavy Lift managing director.

Despite the size and weight of the monopiles, they needed to be transported with extreme care – like “eggshells, very heavy eggshells,” according to Rolner. “Transportation can put a lot of fatigue on the monopiles, which is an issue because developers have to give guarantees on lifespans and it could cut the lifespan of such monopiles if, for example, accelerations are exceeded,” Rolner said. “We also had to give a lot of thought to deformation and all of this had to be considered when designing the cradles.”

United Heavy Lift spent a great deal of time on the engineering of the cradles to protect the precious cargo. “Every cradle – and we built 80 of them – had wooden inlays for every single monopile, which meant each one was unique,” Rolner said, admitting that the engineering involved was far greater than expected in the beginning.

“We did everything in-house and it took at least five to six months. It was a very unique project and we had to use two ships for the job.”

The transit went very well, he reported, and the German firm was impressed with operations on arrival at the Taichung, despite it being the first time the harbor had handled an offshore wind job. “Everything has been very well organized at Taichung, we had no issues and it has been much smoother than expected,” Rolner said.
This is echoed by Formosa 1 project EPC director, Ulrik Lange of Ørsted. He said the partners had learned a lot from the demonstration project. “For Formosa 1 phase two, we already had experience of working with most of the suppliers before and therefore the process was quite smooth,” he said. “Also the collaboration with Taichung harbor was positive. It had no previous experience of working with the offshore wind industry, but took up the challenge and had a constructive approach in supporting the industry. There were, of course, challenges and the harbor as well as the industry needed to find joint solutions.”

Among those challenges was delivering a project of this scale in a country with no track record of offshore wind. In June 2019, the UK’s SMC, which established a branch in Taipei earlier in the year, was hired to deliver full-scope marine coordination services during the offshore construction phase, including cable, foundation and wind turbine generator installation.

An Eye on Local Content

Although many of the key contracts were held by European companies, the project partners, no doubt mindful of the need to build capacity ahead of Taiwan’s incoming local content requirements from 2021, were keen to involve the local supply chain wherever possible. This, of course, started with Taiwan’s Swancor, which supplied the resin used in the Siemens Gamesa turbines.

Andreas Nauen, Siemens Gamesa’s offshore CEO, said the company was proud to work with “industry pioneer” Swancor and to be “moving the Taiwanese offshore wind supply chain forward together.

“We’re furthermore looking forward to expanding our collaboration with Swancor in making Taiwan an offshore wind center in Asia-Pacific,” Nauen said.

The towers were supplied by CS Wind, a global supplier of wind turbine towers, which set up its Taiwanese factory in 2018 at the Port of Taichung, another signal of the expected growth in Taiwan’s wind capacity. The transition pieces were built outside Taiwan, by Thailand’s CEUL Ltd., the company’s first offshore wind contract.
At the time of writing, the monopile foundations and transition pieces had arrived in Taichung and preparations were underway for installation, with Seaway Heavy Lifting’s Seaway Yudin heavy-lift crane ship installing the monopile foundations and UK-based Seajacks deploying its 10,000-tonne jack-up vessel Seajacks Zaratan to install the 6-megawatt wind turbines.

Niels Steenberg, Siemens Gamesa’s executive general manager, APAC, said the specialist Seajacks Zaratan would “relieve one of the bottlenecks for utility scale offshore wind in the region.” This is important. It takes specialist vessels to handle these huge pieces of kit, which is why project developers have turned to foreign-flagged operators with the capacity and expertise to undertake lifting and installation projects of this scale. Yet in April 2019 it was reported that government agencies in Taiwan are considering making use of Taiwan-flagged vessels mandatory for certain offshore wind farm activities, a move that could threaten one of the more promising and open offshore wind markets in the region. This comes just six months after the government lowered the price it will pay offshore wind groups for power by 5.7 percent, a less severe cut than some had feared but one which still had investors casting an anxious eye over margins at the start of this year.

Grand Ideas for Future

Taiwan has big ambitions for offshore wind, with plans to build 5.5 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2025 to switch from coal, cut import bills and lift the contribution of renewables to the country’s electricity generation to 20 percent, up from about 5 percent now.

Formosa will be the first, but it won’t be the largest; German company wpd has secured debt financing for its 640-megawatt Yunlin wind farm, which will lie 8 kilometers offshore and comprise of 80 8-megawatt turbines, with offshore construction set to start in March 2020 while Ørsted is developing the 900-megawatt Changua County project, which will generate enough power to supply the equivalent of 1 million Taiwanese households and will be under construction through 2021-2022.

A number of contractors hope Formosa will be a stepping-stone to further contract wins in Taiwan and the wider offshore wind sector. “We see offshore wind as a real growth area for us,” United’s Rolner said. “We learned a lot from this project, which will stand us in good stead as we see that turbines are only growing in size, which means the foundations are getting bigger too. At some point normal heavy-lift vessels won’t manage and all of these projects will need deck carriers or semi-submersibles – we’ve already got experience of doing this successfully.”

Ørsted’s Lange is certainly positive about the future of this industry in Taiwan. “Energy transition is an important part of the energy policy from the Taiwan government for creating a low-carbon, sustainable, stable, high quality and economically-efficient energy system,” he said. “This policy created the opportunity for offshore wind to grow, and we are glad we can be part in being the first to contribute to this goal.” 

Freelance journalist Amy McLellan has been reporting on the highs and lows of the upstream oil and gas and maritime industries for 20 years.

Image credit: Jan de Nul Group