* Boom in offshore wind turbines owing to greater efficiency
* Specialist firms to benefit from transporting materials
* Logistics headache an opportunity for imaginative
By Maria Sheahan and Christoph Steitz
BRANDE, Denmark/BREMERHAVEN, Germany, July 10 (Reuters) -
A ndreas Wellbrock is proud of his pontoon.
The floating vessel transports gigantic tripods -
reminiscent of rusty space rockets - through the harbour of
Bremerhaven, a German port city located on the North Sea.
The tripods are foundations for offshore wind turbines and
have to be shipped to wind farms being built off the coast. They
are huge, some standing 65 metres tall - as high as the towers
of London's Tower Bridge - and weighing as much as 950 tonnes,
or 950 passenger cars.
"They're the biggest of their kind, so you need an elaborate
mechanism to move them from A to B," says Wellbrock, who is in
charge of wind energy logistics at firm BLG Logistics,
and has helped to devise a special carrier to take the load.
He is hoping that his vessel - the first of its kind
worldwide - will bring in ever more business, as offshore wind
farms provide an increasing share of Germany's power supply.
Since its abrupt exit from nuclear power - announced by
Chancellor Angela Merkel last year following Japan's Fukushima
disaster - Germany has ambitious plans for its renewable energy
Europe's biggest economy aims to derive at least 35 percent
of its power from renewable sources in 2020 and 80 percent in
2050, from 20 percent now. By 2020, the country plans to install
10,000 megawatt (MW) of offshore wind power, from about 200 MW
by the end of 2011.
Offshore wind farms, driven by stronger and steadier winds
at sea, are proving to be more efficient than their onshore
counterparts and a growing area of interest throughout Europe.
For BLG, a haulage and transport firm founded in 1877, the
logistics of offshore wind energy is an important new business
area. The group is aiming to make revenues around 15-20 million
euros in the segment this year, or up to 1.8 percent of expected
Wellbrock believes this could grow to 50-100 million euros
by 2016 or 2017.
Offshore wind currently accounts for less than 2 percent of
global installed wind turbine capacity, but that share is
expected to rise to about 10 percent by 2020, driven by the
global push for more green power, says global industry
About 90 percent of all offshore capacity comes from Europe,
with Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany the top four
players, data from industry association EWEA shows. The North
and Baltic seas provide excellent conditions for wind farms, and
Europe is ahead of the pack in providing government incentives
to the industry. The region is also home to some of the world's
biggest wind turbine makers, such as Denmark's Vestas,
Gamesa and Siemens.
"Order books are looking very, very strong, and they could
become stronger. We think 2015/2016 is the sweet spot for wind
installations when the bulk of offshore products will come
online," said Colm O'Connor, a fund manager at Kleinwort Benson.
O'Connor, who manages the 40-million euro KBI Alternative
Energy fund, said he expected the offshore wind market to post
strong growth until at least 2020.
In Germany alone, the market for offshore wind logistics is
forecast to produce revenue of up to 31 billion euros by 2030,
according to a joint study by German logistics journal DVZ and
management consultancy Barkawi.
Against that background, German logistics companies - those
equipped to transport massive pieces such as rotor blades and
tower segments down narrow roads and out to sea - stand to win
There are still several obstacles to be overcome.
Setting up offshore wind farms can take several years due to
challenging logistics, the size of the components and the fact
that they can only be built in fair weather. Wind, waves and
currents make work with heavy equipment difficult and
"Installing wind turbines only works in 3-4 months during
the year," said Frank Reichert, vice president at Barkawi.
Their expansion also depends on political support, a fate
shared by most renewable energy sources but particularly
relevant to wind turbines, which often provoke extreme reactions
from protesters objecting to their size and appearance.
Red tape, local opposition and questions about who will
finance the sector's growth and carry risks of failure are all
hindering expansion. In Germany the sector is also hampered by a
lack of grid infrastructure, which can mean delays in
transporting power across the country.
This has been acknowledged by the government, which is
working on new regulation to reduce insurance risks and attract
investments from the private sector.
Awaiting those new rules are a variety of construction and
logistics companies. Ranging from large corporations to small
family-run firms, they include BLG, Rhenus Logistics, Goldhofer
and Hochtief - all preparing to vie for a slice of
this new business.
FROM LAND TO SEA
The wind power headquarters of German engineering
conglomerate Siemens stand just outside the central
Danish town of Brande, some 50 km from the coast.
At its factory there, it makes covers for the parts that
drive the wind turbines: the generator, gearbox and drive train.
These covers, called nacelles, are trucked to the coast,
then transported onto barges and shipped to offshore sites. It
is a laborious process, high in fuel and equipment costs.
The nacelles are big, but other parts are bigger again, and
simply too large to be transported by road.
"The utilities and manufacturers will try to eliminate the
issue of land transport as much as possible" to reduce high
costs in this area, said Frank Matzen, senior manager at Ernst &
Young, who focuses on renewable energy.
Siemens, for example, is investing 80 million pounds to
build a factory at the port of Hull in the UK, where it will
build its new six-megawatt wind turbines.
"We took the first 6 MW (turbines) on the road, but that is,
due to the size of the machine, not an optimal solution," said
Michael Hannibal, head of Siemens' offshore business in Europe,
the Middle East and Africa.
Other firms, like German construction company Hochtief, have
started companies to build barges that can construct the
turbines at sea. The vessels cost more than 100 million euros
Back in Bremerhaven, Wellbrock points to an area beside the
port on which private investors plan to build a terminal to
serve the offshore wind farm.
"If everything goes according to plan, the whole shipping
process will happen here," he says.
He, and his pontoon, will be waiting.