Storage space, a challenge for offshore wind power

Some equations just don’t match. For example, storing 500 offshore wind turbine blades at a site with only room for 400 (and that’s only if you don’t store the other key components needed to build a complete wind turbine). Elaine Maslin visited Siemens Gamesa’s blade manufacturing facility in Hull, UK to learn more.

Storage space is becoming a major looming challenge for ports involved in the rapidly evolving offshore wind industry. This is already becoming a challenge for Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy at its blade manufacturing plant in Hull, on the east coast of England. Opened only in 2016, the site must already expand its blade production capacity to meet demand. But he also sees a point where he will run out of space to store them, as plans ramp up in 2024.

The site is the largest blade manufacturing plant in the UK, producing blades for mega-projects like Hornsea Two, which will overtake Hornsea One as the world’s largest offshore wind farm when it comes online this year.

Blades for the 450 MW, 54-turbine Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm off Scotland are manufactured here, as well as for the 38-turbine Kaskasi wind farm off Germany, SeaMade off the Belgium and the 900 MW Greater Changhua project in Taiwan.

The Challenge of Blade Storage
Since opening, the manufacturing site has produced 1,700 blades, a number that can be a major challenge to handle and store at the Alexandra Dock site. This site has space for 240 slides; as long as nothing else, such as nacelles and towers, is stored on site, says Simon Muirhead, logistics coordinator, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy.

During Hornsea 2, every space on the site was used, plus an overflow storage site, almost 4km away (adding its own logistical challenges), at King George Dock, to accommodate 180 blades, 24 nacelles and 100 m- tall turbine towers to assemble and store, he says.

But now Siemens Gamesa is spending £186m on a new manufacturing hall on site and expanding the existing hall, adding over 41,000m² of floor space (more than double the total manufacturing space). As well as increasing production capacity, this will allow the manufacture of 108m long blades from 2023. However, the extension will take up a significant portion of the site’s already tight storage space. With production expected to increase in 2024, with storage requirements projected to reach 500, it looks like it will be a squeeze.

Respond to the request
“We have to decide what we are going to do over the next 12 months and plan for five years, but everything is changing quite quickly,” says John Shaw, Port of Hull Manager, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy. “Everyone is afraid to invest early, because of (the pace of) change.” But, “Without significant investment, we will struggle to find storage space for the blades,” says Shaw.

It’s a common thread throughout the industry as it continues to push itself, as heard at the Ports & Vessels Conference, held in Hull in April.

108m of blades on the horizon
The growth in activity at the Hull site since it opened has been marked, says Muirhead. When opened, it produced blades 75 m long. It is now producing 81m of blades, with 108m of blades to come and 115m on the charts thereafter. Like many in the industry, it’s hard to keep up.

Two vessels – Rotra Mare and Rotra Vente – converted in 2016 to transport blades, have recently returned to service after their latest refits, in order to keep up with this growth; the Rotra Mare had to be cut in half to add 11m to its length.

Blade handling
One of the biggest challenges at the port for Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy’s port and logistics team is the handling of the blades on site, as it is rare for the blades to come straight out of the fabrication hall and onto the ships. This means that they must be stored. When space runs out at the main site, they must be moved to King George’s Dock. It involves a huge amount of time and effort.

Moving a blade around the site takes about an hour and a half and requires seven people, five of whom, including the transport system controller, on foot – not much fun on cold winter nights and wet,” says Muirhead. The road infrastructure of the port had to be adapted to allow the movement of these structures, which will become increasingly difficult as they lengthen. It’s like Tetris – they need to be moved and positioned in order and in the right place, to get the maximum storage capacity and to make sure the good ones come out in the right sets when needed – which means bringing them back nearly 4 km to the main site.

“It’s feast and famine,” says Shaw, reflecting the way projects pile up, blades lined up at the site, before they’re all shipped out and it’s empty again. “We need a big open space with good ground providing capacity.”

(Photo: Elaine Maslin)

Blade Stack
The team is working with port owner ABP to secure more space. But if that’s not possible, stacking operations might need to be looked into. It is not an ideal, however, even on the transport of blades through the site. “It’s the cranes, the people, that introduce risk and cost,” says Shaw. “We could consider shipping them elsewhere, but that also adds cost.”

Shaw says they’re also looking at the blades’ digital tracking capability, so it’s possible to see where they are, where they’ve moved, how often they’ve moved, all in a visual graph. “With more data, we can identify more efficiencies, so we’re investing in setting that up,” he says.

This is a site that never sleeps. When I visited, the blades at EDF Renewables UK’s Neart na Gaoithe wind farm off Fife, Scotland were being charged. They will be taken to Dundee and stored again before being transported offshore for installation. Six can be carried in the hold and another six on deck – enough for four turbines. But charging should be done in good weather.

A global footprint
It is a growing market. In addition to expanding its production facilities in Hull, Siemens Gamesa is increasing production elsewhere. It is planning its first installation of offshore wind turbine blades in the United States, after signing a long-term lease with the Port Authority of Virginia for a site at Portsmouth Marine Terminal, Virginia. This is expected to support Dominion Energy’s commercial 2.6GW coastal offshore wind project.

Back in Europe, Siemens Gamesa recently put the first combined nacelle and blade offshore installation into production in Le Havre. Its other main blade manufacturing facility is in Aalborg, Denmark, while nacelles are also built in Cuxhaven, Germany.

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