Monday, November 19, 2012

Offshore Wind: The Sum of its Parts & People

Offshore wind advocates cite emissions reduction, water quality, diversity of energy portfolio, and economic development as all part of the rationale for developing in U.S. waters. While much of the rationale is straightforward, I see a weakness in the argument used to support the economic development angle. As industry representatives, we must ask ourselves if we are fully delivering a comprehensive, yet easy-to-understand argument for economic development.

Consider this. “The electrical and grid infrastructure, foundations and support structures, offshore logistics and installation, and O&M represent the highest percentage of the total project cost, ranging from 57% to 71%” (NREL 2010). Based on this statement, it’s clear the scope of services involved in offshore wind is much broader than the turbine, certainly broader than most people tend to think about. Better yet, are we doing our best to make it easy for them to think about it more broadly?

People understand the connection between manufacturing and jobs at a high level. They recognize it requires a labor force to create the wind turbine components and then to install and maintain them. All-in-all, the term “supply chain” isn’t a foreign language. But the offshore wind supply chain isn’t just the “sum of its parts.” The turbine and its thousands of tangible components is only a portion of the opportunity. What about the cables, vessels, people, port infrastructure, research, etc…?  The Europeans use the term “value chain” to acknowledge the other term’s shortcoming.

Using the “value chain” terminology allows for the full spectrum of goods and services to be considered as the cost-benefit matrix is developed. After all, when all of these are factored into the cost of a project, do we want to short-change ourselves by using a generic term like supply-chain? I’d venture to say, not at offshore wind’s current cost-per-kilowatt hour.

One full-service project management firm called PMSS is acutely aware of how important it is to communicate this. While they do it to fully detail their “line card” as a service provider, it clearly spells out the scope of the offshore wind value chain. Accordingly, PMSS has a publication called “The Life of an Offshore Wind Farm” which fully describes and delineates the cradle-to-grave project activities undertaken while also listing corresponding job titles for each task.

Another favorite resource to better communicate the value chain was published by the United Kingdom’s Crown Estate, “Your Career in Offshore Wind Energy.”  The document has visualizations of offshore wind’s lifecycle and interviews with professionals like a hydrographic surveyor. For reference, the Crown Estate manages the U.K. government’s property portfolio which includes the zone leases for offshore projects.

From wind assessment and permitting to decommissioning, it should come as no surprise Europe is currently employing over 45,000 people directly in offshore wind; up to 134,000 by 2020. The value-chain is long and the scale is tremendous. As stewards of the impending offshore wind industry in the United States, I propose we instill this term among stakeholders and policy makers in order to strengthen the argument and properly acknowledge the spectrum of economic and employment opportunities. 

Donny Davis

Research & Communications Manager

Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) 

1 comment:

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