Offshore wind markets are growing rapidly around the world.

The offshore wind industry, once a niche market in Northern Europe, is now rapidly expanding worldwide. While the North Sea is the most established market, new markets are opening in China, Taiwan and North America.

234GW projected global offshore wind capacity by 2030 Global Wind Energy Council, GWEC
165GW Estimated global pipeline of offshore wind projects (subject to approval) Global Wind Energy Council, GWEC

Generating power where winds are more powerful

Most of the offshore wind market is developed close to shore, with fixed foundations. However, industry analysts have long noted that if the wind industry is going to generate a significant portion of the global power mix, it needs to move into deeper water where average wind speeds are higher and more consistent.

Today, new designs are opening up deep-water offshore wind sites. Since these technologies are still largely unproven, their associated risks have yet to be fully quantified.

Explore the risk profiles of different types of wind turbines

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up to145 feet

Monopile

The preferred foundation solution for shallow water, monopile installations have been used in depths of up to 145 feet. A rolled steel cylinder is drilled or hammered into the seabed. The wind turbine tower is then bolted onto a transition piece which sits on top of the monopile.

Perils facing monopile installations

  • Established, “one-size-fits-all” offshore wind farm design used on many Gigawatts (GW) of projects
  • Larger turbines and deeper water are pushing the limits of this technology
  • Gravity based solutions (GBS) and suction bucket foundations may be used if ground conditions permit.
  • Ground investigations required to determine optimal installation methods
  • Availability of vessels and equipment large enough to install monopiles is high.
  • Major component replacements require vessels that are costly to hire
  • Working in an offshore environment exposed to weather conditions always poses risks
  • Scour protection around monopile base is vital to maintain foundation integrity.
20x more powerful Today’s offshore wind turbines compared to 30 years ago New York Times, 2018
30MW Size of first U.S. offshore wind farm project Year: 2016
18+GW Total of offshore wind installed using monopiles as of June 2020
55-60% Expected new wind farms in waters 100 feet or less, 2020-2025* *Offshore Magazine
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100-200 feet

Jackets

Common in the oil and gas industry, jackets are truss-like steel structures with three or four legs. At the base of the legs are piles—essentially smaller monopiles inserted into the seabed using the same techniques as a full-size monopile—providing great structural strength. Jackets are a cost effective solution in depths of up to 200 feet.

Perils facing jacket installations

  • Custom-built for each turbine location
  • Require a detailed understanding of ground conditions
  • More intricate design requires excellent quality control during fabrication
  • While jackets are lighter and easier to handle than monopiles, installation times are longer
  • Multiple legs per jacket increases risk of unsuitable ground conditions.
  • Custom built for each turbine location, providing more flexible access options
  • More prone to corrosion than monopiles if not coated and maintained.
260 feet Length of blades on today’s most powerful wind turbines New York Times, 2020
Over 4 GW Offshore wind projects featuring jacket design GlobalData
1,083 turbines with jacket foundations to be installed globally, from 2021 to 2025 *Offshore Engineer Magazine
20% Market share of commisioned jacket offshore wind installations in 2020* *Offshore Magazine
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200–3,000+ feet

Floating foundations

Consisting of a floating substructure tethered to the seabed using a mooring system, floating foundation designs include: spar buoys, semi-submersibles, tension leg platforms (TLP) and barges. No design has achieved market dominance yet. Floating foundations target water depths from 200 feet to more than 3,000 feet.

Perils facing floating installations

  • Limited or no track record on all four design installation types
  • Supply chain is not commercialized to date
  • Dis-connectable mooring lines and cables are a new technical challenge
  • Requires anchors installed in the seabed attached to the turbine foundation
  • Small anchor footprint expected to reduce risk of unsuitable ground conditions.
  • Turbines are towed to site pre-installed on their foundations, which removes the need for expensive crane vessels.
  • Since depths are too great for jack-ups, entire turbine will likely be towed back to port to replace major components
  • Mooring lines may be at risk for vessel collision or anchor trawling
  • Limited or no operational data from some designs makes risks difficult to accurately quantify at this time.
600 feet tall Height of wind turbine being installed 11 miles off Viana de Castelo, Portugal New York Times, 2020
Around 80% of the offshore wind resource is located in waters of more than 60 meter depth WindEurope.org
Floating Wind will open up potential in emerging markets including California, the Philippines, South Africa and Turkey. WorldBank.org
Floating turbines could unlock enough potential to meet the world’s total electricity demand 11 times over in 2040 IEA.org

As the wind industry grows, so does the associated risk.

Until recently, the majority of the wind industry's growth could be attributed to onshore installations. However, we've begun to see the rapid growth of offshore projects. As wind turbines increase in size and projects are built in harsher environments, understanding the potential risks will be critical in helping the industry achieve its goals.

$142.7B Total investment in windpower in 20201
743GW Total wind energy installed globally at the end of 20202
4% Annual growth of windpower industry forecasted through 20243

Cover your wind project’s entire lifecycle.

Planning

Wind projects face challenges long before installation. They start in the factory. So it’s critical owners and operators consider their insurance options in the planning stages.

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Questions? Contact us.

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Sam Walsh
Head of US Renewables
Insurance
Chicago, IL
Sam Walsh

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1 https://about.bnef.com/blog/energy-transition-investment-hit-500-billion-in-2020-for-first-time/
2 https://gwec.net/global-wind-report-2021/
3 Analysis: Top 10 U.S. states by wind energy capacity, Jack Unwin. Power Technology, Apr. 15, 2019.