Is offshore wind the next big workboat market?

Our November issue will feature a story on a promising new vessel market you may be familiar with — offshore wind farms.

Overseas, several countries have offshore wind projects in operation, with the United Kingdom boasting the largest offshore wind market in the world.

A report earlier this year from Pike Research said that despite slower growth in 2010 due to the global recession, wind power is still one of the world’s most significant renewable energy markets. The report said that total wind generating capacity, both onshore and offshore, will increase from 194 gigawatts (GW) in 2010 to 563 GW by 2017. Wind power installations are currently a $56 billion industry, and Pike Research estimates that it will represent a $153 billion global industry by 2017.

It will take a lot of money for the U.S. to match the U.K.’s wind farm market, which is bolstered by government subsidies. But we’ve made some progress in the U.S., with the federal approval of a construction and operations plan for what could be the nation’s first offshore wind farm off the Massachusetts coast.

U.S. boatyards and vessel operators see the burgeoning market’s potential and want to be ready if the industry takes off. Montco Offshore is building a liftboat that could service the offshore wind farm market. The liftboat, which is nearing completion at Gulf Island Marine Fabricators, features more deck capacity and a larger deck area than Montco’s other liftboats.

Blount Boats is making sure it will be a player, too. The Rhode Island builder of workboats has an agreement in place with the U.K.’s South Boats Projects Ltd. to build U.S.-flagged wind farm service vessels. South Boats has built 45 WSVs for projects in seven countries.

Gladding-Hearn is also hedging it bets by signing a licensing agreement with Incat Crowther for an 18-meter aluminum WSV design. The yard’s Peter Duclos acknowledges the market’s tremendous potential, “but at this point, there are no wind farms approved or are fully funded or have sold their power.” But, he said, once they are approved and contracts are signed, he thinks the market will take off.

We’ll see. One thing Europe has going for it is that public policy supports wind power. So far, that support has not been as great in the U.S., and with all the austerity-mania currently going on in the federal government, I doubt you will see significant subsidies for U.S. offshore wind power projects.

Still, Pike Research says that while the U.S. is lagging behind Europe and China, many in the industry are optimistic as costs continue to drop dramatically. This industry would provide a shot in the arm for workboat yards and operators.


About the author

David Krapf

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.

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