The transportation of wind energy components stalled out in 2009 along with other shipments in the project cargo sector, but the market is stirring back to life. Furthermore, just as components for power plants, refineries and other projects are increasing in length and size, so are wind power components.
A new generation of heavier, stronger generators, known as nacelles, weigh up to 180 tons each. Wind towers are heavier and blades are longer, said Alberto Morante, regional director for Latin America at Bertling Logistics. “Windmills have a lot of cubic (volume) to be transported, a lot of air,” he said. This leads to intense interest in streamlining the stacking and packing of wind energy components. Heavy-lift carriers, forwarders and shippers are charged with finding innovative ways to accomplish these challenges.
Roman Zhekov, vice president for global projects at BBC Chartering, said the carrier has several ships on order that will be configured to handle over-dimensional cargo such as offshore windmills. Zhekov declined to go into detail, but said the design of the vessels will allow BBC to carry wind towers stowed vertically. The 12,000-deadweight-ton vessels, being built in China, will also have combined heavy-lift capacities of up to 900 metric tons. BBC’s Web site lists 15 ships ordered with this heavy-lift capacity.
Offshore wind is “where the future is,” Zhekov said. “It’s a new part of the supply chain, and you must have the right tools. You modify and design with supplementary equipment. These are specialized jobs; you are not just moving cargo from A to B.” At offshore sites, BBC’s new wind-savvy ships will transfer cargo to barge or another vessel, and be able to assist in the installation, he said.
Beau Schindler, chartering manager at Intermarine, concurs that the size of wind turbines is increasing. Before the 2009 downturn, Intermarine was moving nearly one vessel of wind energy components a week, primarily from South America to the U.S.
Schindler said larger wind turbines are an outgrowth of a saturation of attractive wind acreage. Manufacturers are developing less attractive wind sites with slower wind speeds, necessitating taller towers and larger blades to capture what a smaller turbine could do in an area with higher wind speeds.
“The larger blades and larger towers create some (shipping) constraints,” Schindler said. Wind blades today reach lengths up to 40 meters long, but tomorrow’s blades may stretch to 49 meters. As blade length increases, fewer blades will be stowable beneath decks, adding impetus to piling them higher on deck.
Manufacturers of wind components are seeking to reduce per-kilowatt costs across the entire delivery process, Schindler said. “They want installed costs down as far as they can. Carriers are feeling the pressure from those strategies.
“One thing we are looking at in our new generation of vessels is a forward house, which enables more flexibility in line of sight,” Schindler said. Traditionally, the bridge and crew quarters were astern, but newer vessels are bringing those elements forward to the bow, “more like a supply boat,” he said.
“That means you can pile things higher on the deck because it does not obscure the line of sight,” he said. “If we are currently stacking blades three high on deck, this will enable us to go higher, assuming the blade supports (on the bottom of the stack) are of sufficient strength.”
Intermarine will receive three new “F-Class” ships this year, with a fourth vessel scheduled for delivery in 2011. These ships will have combined lift capacities of 800 metric tons, doubling what is available on the carrier’s current ships. The point of new designs like Intermarine’s F-type, Schindler said, is maximizing stow. “As it stands today, rate levels are at a point — not just for wind but for all cargoes — where you’ve really got to max out and get as much on a given vessel as you can to make it economically viable.”
“If you’ve got 100 turbines and three blades per turbine, that’s 300 windmill blades,” said Shirley Castaing, senior project manager for wind at TransProject in Houston. “We can’t get a vessel to accommodate 300 blades. Maybe 100.
“Newbuildings with longer deck space or more stowage room would be optimal. We could make a full charter and would not just be begging people for deck space,” she said.
Fitting more, larger wind blades onboard a vessel is a constant challenge. An innovative lashing method recently allowed BBC Chartering to stack four blades below deck and three above deck on one vessel. The blades were stacked so tightly on deck they almost touched the walls of the superstructure, Castaing said. A South American manufacturer had only approved three below and three above, but Castaing needed all 300 blades on three vessels, which would have been impossible using the standard method.
“We came up with a different lashing and securing method below deck, and we brought that engineering to the manufacturing group. They watched and approved the stowing and lashing. Now we follow that same lashing method today,” she said.
As for the market, “wind blade cargoes are starting to move again,” Castaing said. The past year has been frozen, but “inquiries have doubled over the past year and a half. It’s just now starting to break loose for the second and third quarter.”
Today’s market could be better, Schindler said, “but there is still some life, and I think we’ll start to see a bit of momentum picking up toward the middle of this year.”
“The markets are trying to stabilize. The trend is upward,” Zhekov said. But for now it remains a shipper’s market, “for sure.” l
Contact Janet Nodar at firstname.lastname@example.org.