Offshore wind is a booming industry, and in particular the UK has an enormous theoretical potential to generate 2TW mean power from offshore wind, as I wrote on my blog.

And whereas there's a lot of talk about constraints about funding, and about managing the production of electricity, I've found very little on the medium to long-term physical constraints on the supply side: only measures of the theoretic potential, as I've linked above, and some discussions about the wake effects within and between arrays.

So, thinking ahead to say 2030, what are the constraining logistics on the supply side? Assuming no problems with funding and take-off of the electricity, what is the thing that would cap the amount of new capacity that would be deployed?

2030 is far enough away that there would seem to be few meaningful constraints on the number of suitable ships or turbine factories that could be operational by then. So are there any supply-side limiting logistics at all?

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    This certainly isn't an answer, but I remember a few years ago, Boeing was under considerable pressure because supply constraints in raw aluminum were preventing them from keeping up with demand. And, Boeing only delivers a few hundred airplanes a year. Wind turbines aren't primarily aluminum, but they are large machines, somewhat like commercial airliners. So, I could envision some issues as production ramps up. However, with your time horizon of 2030, I don't see anything that couldn't adjust to demand over such a long time period (so long as demand stays strong). – Nate May 22 '13 at 20:58
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    This may mainly be a short term issue, but I do discuss some supply side issues in this answer on LEDs. Turbine generators compete for some of the same "rare earth" materials, so some of the information in my Short Term Supply Constraints section may be a useful starting point in answering this question. – Nate Jun 11 '13 at 1:25
  • This is speculative, and so not really an answer, but one possible candidate is a shortage of service technicians. Should be possible to ramp up recruitment and training in that timescale, though... – Flyto Sep 28 '13 at 9:40

According to the European Wind Energy Association report Wind in our Sails: The coming of Europe’s offshore wind energy industry executive summary, the physical constraints for a wind energy construction port are:

  • Channels or a harbour with a depth of 10 metres or greater, the waterways must be able to accommodate the rotors (which according to the report, can be up to 200m long).

  • Storage area of at least 25ha - presumably larger, depending on capacity - associated with this are requirements for electricity, transport infrastructure, water, sanitation, waste removal etc.

  • Quayside length:bearing of up to 20 tonnes per square metre

This is elaborated further in the report Port and Infrastructure Analysis for Offshore Wind Energy Development, prepared for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Centre, with a set of physical criteria for any such port:

  • Conditions at Ports and Wind Farm Locations, due to

Wave height, water depth and wind speed impose limitations on at-sea construction operations.

also applying to the port and the transport channels.

  • Vessel Constraints and Requirements, the number and accommodation of these vessels is critical. Additionally, repair facilities are required.

  • Navigational Access and Transit Distances - the key questions related to this are - what obstructions are there (both natural and artificial) including barriers, bridges (this constrains the height of the cargo) and channel width.

  • Staging Port Facility Requirements - the same as the second point written above for the European report, however, consideration is needed for expansion of any operations, specifically

a port would have a 1000-ton crane on rolling tracks, which would carry components from a delivery vessel to a storage location; sufficient linear footage to efficiently load/unload one vessel at a time, with a preference for multiple deepwater berths to unload several vessels simultaneously; a secondary 80-ft berth; and about 200 acres for assembly and storage.

  • Rail and Highway Access - this is to transport components and people over land, from the report

Highway and rail delivery modes appear unlikely options for turbine or foundation delivery to port facilities. However, highway and rail access is desirable for delivery of related products such as aggregate for scour protection and component pieces.

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