Chinese yards are among the world’s busiest in building offshore wind farm installation vessels as the country gears up to expand renewable energy infrastructure to help reduce its reliance on coal-led fossil fuels.

Out of the 24 offshore wind farm installation vessels under construction or planned globally, 15 are being built in China, including nine for domestic use and six ordered by foreign owners, according to statistics from Chinese associations.

Norwegian footprint

The latest order was awarded by Norway-based OIM Wind in October 2020 to Chinese yard CIMC Raffles for a BT-220IU wind farm installation vessel.

The unit, which is will be equipped with LNG-powered engines and an onboard integrated battery pack, is expected to start operations by the end of 2022, targeting European and US markets.

Also in October last year, Norway's Offshore Heavy Transport (OHT) finalised a deal with China Merchants Heavy Industry (CMHI) for the construction of a wind turbine generator (WTG) installation vessel.

This is the first of the two such vessels, Vind 1 and Vind 2, committed for construction by OHT in an initial contract signed with CMHI in July of the same year.

While Chinese yards are building offshore wind vessels for foreign owners and operators, they are also stepping up work to deliver offshore wind units for operation in Chinese waters.

Chinese construction spree

China is expected to boost its own offshore wind power generation capacity to 50 gigawatts by the end of 2029, aiming to reach 10% of the country’s total wind power generation capacity compared with 3% now.

Most of the new wind power capacity will be added in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong provinces.

Of the nine vessels being planned or built in China, seven are of jack-up design, while one is bottom-supported design and one is ship-shaped.

Five of them will be delivered this year, with the rest slated for completion in 2022.

Sources said that it normally takes 18 months for Chinese yards to complete an offshore wind farm installation vessel.

One, a jack-up offshore wind farm installation vessel ordered by Chinese offshore wind vessel contractor Longyuan Zhenhua to Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries (ZPMC), is scheduled for completion this year.

The ZPMC vessel will be equipped with a giant crane with lifting capacity of 2000 tonnes and hosting height of 120 metres.

The DP1 vessel is built to cater the need to install wind turbines as big as 12 megawatts.

Before this, offshore wind installation vessels being built in China were offering capacity to lift turbines up to 6 MW with lifting capacity up to 1300 tonnes.

Lifting capacity

Voltaire, an offshore wind vessel being built at Cosco Shipping Heavy Industry’s Nantong facility for Belgian ship owner Jan De Nul Group offers a lifting capacity of 3000 tonnes.

The vessel, equipped with DP2 system. is capable of working in water depths of 80 metres and can accommodate 110 persons.

Expected for delivery in the first quarter of 2022, the vessel is designed to transport, lift and install offshore wind turbines, transition pieces and foundations as well as decommissioning offshore oil and gas facilities.

Offshore wind vessels being ordered by Chinese owners for operation in China normally incorporate local design offered by engineering houses such as Shanghai Bestway Marine Engineering Design, ZMPC and Marine Design & Research Institute of China.

Subsidy rush

The construction spree is being encouraged by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge at the United Nations General Assembly via video in late September for China to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

By the end of 2019, China operated several offshore wind power projects totalling 11 GW offshore China.

Under the current policy, offshore wind projects that have secured approval and are commissioned before the end of 2021 will still be granted subsidies.

The current rush to fabricate the offshore wind vessels can also be explained by the government decision to end subsidies for future offshore wind power projects.

The government ruled that offshore wind projects endorsed before the end of 2018 must be completed and in operation before the end of next year.

If not, project developers will be deprived of a government subsidy of 0.85 yuan for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated.

Jiangsu province, which leads offshore wind development in China, endorsed 24 offshore wind projects in 2018 with capacity totalling 6.7 GW to take advantage of the policy.

In the same year, Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces approved new offshore wind projects with capacity totalling 20 GW.

The new projects in Jiangsu, which require investments totalling 122.29 billion yuan ($18.8 billion), promising nearly six times the 1.2 GW of offshore wind power that China installed nationally in 2017, based on figures from the Global Wind Energy Council.

Oil and gas companies are also eyeing the offshore wind sector.

China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has just issued a green development action plan, calling for renewed efforts to develop offshore wind projects.

Oil giant wades in

Last September, CNOOC launched its first offshore wind farm off eastern China’s Jiangsu province.

The H2 offshore wind project in Rudong county, Jiangsu, which is made up of 67 units, has a total power generation capacity of 300 MW.

France's Total is also in talks over potential partnerships with China Three Gorges (CTG) to build offshore wind projects in China.

CTG is preparing to pioneer floating technology off Guangdong province with a pilot project due for installation this year.

Total has already put down a marker in the Asian floating wind sector with a stake in 2 GW of projects offshore South Korea.