The Race to Build a Domestic Offshore Wind Supply Chain

Department of Energy turns to GLWN for competitive analysis of U.S. manufacturing

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), more than 4 million megawatts of electricity could be accessed via offshore wind energy using turbines located in state and federal waters along the coasts of the United States and the Great Lakes. That staggering number is approximately four times the combined generating capacity of all U.S. electric power plants.

The potential for offshore wind as a domestic energy source has gradually become a key objective of the DOE as it seeks to advance the national strategy for offshore wind research and development. In doing so, the department is "leading market analysis, technology development, and deployment projects that will overcome key barriers including the relatively high cost of energy, the mitigation of environmental impacts, the technical challenges of project installation, and grid interconnection."

One project outlined in the DOE's Wind Program is an initiative designed to assess the current domestic supply chain infrastructure and recommend strategies for national manufacturing infrastructure development to support offshore wind deployment.

GLWN has been named one of the lead investigative resources funded by a recent DOE grant to research and provide information aimed at furthering America's offshore wind manufacturing and supply chain development.

According to Patrick Fullenkamp, Director of Technical Services for GLWN and a principle investigator leading the DOE project, the study has several key objectives:

  • To research manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. and gauge our ability to meet the demand for offshore wind turbine components;
  • To review production processes of manufacturers and recommend strategies to ultimately reduce the enormous costs associated with offshore wind energy production;
  • To attract foreign developers looking at the U.S. market and showcase the advantages of domestic manufacturing; and
  • To boost employment among manufacturers that make up the domestic supply chain.

"[T]hese offshore wind research, development, and demonstration projects will catalyze the development of a new offshore wind industry in the United States while increasing our domestically-sourced power supply."

U.S. Department of Energy Statement

To do that, Fullenkamp is working alongside Dee Holody, Director of Operations for GLWN to produce the required project deliverables.

First, the team is conducting Value Stream Mapping (VSM) for the four major wind turbine components, including the steel foundation, tower, blade and gearbox. The VSM examines everything related to production of these components, from material purchases, to step-by-step plant production, to final shipment of the component to the customer. This information will be compared with the same components currently produced by suppliers in Europe and Asia.

The point here, according to Fullenkamp, is to demonstrate the advantages of producing the part domestically as opposed to overseas. "More than 10 percent of the cost of a foreign-made part goes into shipping that product to the U.S.," explained Fullenkamp, noting one obvious advantage of domestic production.

The Value Stream Mapping "gives you a clear picture of the entire process, and leads to dialogue on ways to improve the process and minimize non-value steps," said Fullenkamp.

Ongoing research will also provide a cost breakdown analysis and comparison, taking into account material and purchased parts, labor, logistics, sales, general and administrative services, profit margins and tooling costs.

Another project deliverable focuses on identifying domestic manufacturers and service providers that are capable of supplying the offshore wind industry. Holody is leading this initiative by teaming up with several coastal-state Manufacturing Extension Partnership Centers (MEPs) to compile an in-depth database showcasing those potential suppliers.

That data will be incorporated into the existing Wind Supply Chain Database and Map that GLWN developed several years ago. GLWN will expand its current GIS map to include supply-chain information pertaining to Offshore Foundations and/or Floating Structures; Vessels (to manage offshore transport and assembly of offshore wind turbines); and Electrical Infrastructure providers.

"The theory behind all this is that domestically produced content is key to the U.S. offshore wind energy success," said Fullenkamp. "This sector provides the best opportunities for U.S. manufacturers of towers, foundations, blades and generators which need to be manufactured close to the staging site because of size, weight and logistical considerations."

Fullenkamp suggested that manufacturers who currently (or can potentially) service the offshore wind sector make themselves known by becoming a part of GLWN's GIS supply-chain map. "It's vital that you take a good look at the industry and become as knowledgeable as possible," he said. "If you're supplying the onshore wind industry, then you could greatly benefit from offshore. But there are lots of things to consider, including logistics, relocation and even constructing new facilities."

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