In this week’s episode, host Kristin Hayes talks with Matt Shields, a senior offshore wind analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Among other research projects, the lab conducts offshore wind techno-economic analysis, which involves developing cost models, analyzing market and technology trends, and projecting the future costs of offshore wind. Shields is the lead author of a new study that explores the demand for a domestic offshore wind energy supply chain following the Biden administration’s March 2021 goal to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2030.
Shields and Hayes discuss some challenges to achieving the 2030 goal—including constraints on the number of turbine installation vessels and ports—along with the potential employment impacts of building a domestic supply chain for offshore wind, and how best to synchronize the design of turbines, installation vessels, and ports along the supply chain.
Listen to the Podcast
- The US supply chain is not enough: “We do have some operating capacity in the United States. However, this is really a drop in the bucket of what we would need to have a full domestic offshore wind supply chain. In addition to the components themselves, we also have a big demand for vessels. Some of these vessels are relatively straightforward, where you may be able to repurpose vessels from, for example, the oil and gas industry in the United States that could be used for particular aspects of offshore wind installation. However, most of the vessels are highly specialized and essentially need to be built, or at least retrofitted and customized for the offshore wind industry.” (14:39)
- Massive structures produce massive challenges: “Just for reference, each blade for these new offshore wind turbines which will be used in the United States is going to be over 100 meters long and is going to be installed about 130 meters above sea level. The size and scale of these components is just staggering and really needs these highly specialized pieces of equipment to install them.” (20:00)
- We’ll benefit if we streamline designs and supply chains: “The challenge is that the design of the vessels, the design of the port, and the design of the turbine need to be synchronized. As turbines get bigger, you need to have a vessel that can lift it. As that vessel gets bigger, it’s harder and harder to get into the port. So, it’s really this systems problem that would benefit from coordination between all these different entities in the supply chain.” (23:55)
- Employment opportunities through offshore wind: “We see … an average of between 12,000 and almost 50,000 annual jobs that could be used to manufacture all the components for offshore wind. What I personally found really interesting was that the majority of those jobs are what are called ‘indirect jobs.’ If you think of a direct job, that’s the people who are in the finishing factory, putting the final component together—whereas the indirect jobs are the underlying supply chain … In some cases, we saw as many as two-thirds of the jobs per component in that ‘indirect’ category.” (28:08)
Top of the Stack
- “Supply Chain Road Map for Offshore Wind Energy” by Matt Shields, Ruth Marsh, Jeremy Stefek, Frank Oteri, Ross Gould, Noé Rouxel, Katherine Diaz, Javier Molinero, Abigayle Moser, Courtney Malvik, and Sam Tirone
- “Offshore Wind Market Report: 2021 Edition” by Walter Musial, Paul Spitsen, Philipp Beiter, Patrick Duffy, Melinda Marquis, Abryn Cooperman, Rob Hammond, and Matt Shields
- “Supply Chain Contracting Forecast for U.S. Offshore Wind Power—The Updated and Expanded 2021 Edition” by the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind
- Offshore Wind Insider podcast
- The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Full Transcript
Kristin Hayes: Hello, and welcome to Resources Radio, a weekly podcast from Resources for the Future. I'm your host, Kristin Hayes.
My guest today is Dr. Matthew Shields, senior offshore wind analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL. Matt joined NREL in 2018 and leads the lab's work on offshore wind techno-economic analysis, which involves developing cost models, analyzing market and technology trends, and projecting the future costs of offshore wind. He is the lead author of a new study on the demand for a domestic offshore wind energy supply chain, which is the subject of our conversation today.
The study focuses on a March 2021 announcement by the Biden administration setting a goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind installation in the United States by 2030. In order to meet that goal, the US will need to procure large amounts of new equipment as delightfully detailed in the report. But little of that equipment is currently sourced in the US. The events of the past few years from pandemic to war have encouraged countries to rethink where they source many materials, and the Biden administration has taken a hard look in particular at those supply chains tied to decarbonization.
So Matt and I will discuss the offshore wind project pipeline; the availability of ports, vessels, and other key needs; as well as the potential employment impacts of building a domestic supply chain for offshore wind. Stay with us.
Hi, Matt, welcome to Resources Radio. Thanks very much for joining me today.
Matt Shields: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
Kristin Hayes: Great. It sounds like you've been at NREL for about four years now. And maybe before we dive into this particular study, can you share with our listeners a little bit more about your path to NREL and more generally about the work you do there?
Matt Shields: Yeah. My background's in engineering, mechanical and aerospace engineering. Before joining NREL, I was part of the faculty at Seattle University. I was starting to get involved in wind energy research and was getting involved with a student team that was participating in the collegiate wind competition, which is I think my first exposure to NREL and the wind energy industry as a whole. I was also doing a lot of work in humanitarian engineering, doing some business development and economic modeling for some projects in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The combination of these two was a good fit for this particular techno-economic position at NREL when that came online, and I was able to move over to the lab in 2018. So the work that my group does here is to focus on basically how offshore wind can advance itself either through technology or through new innovations or through better processes in order to make it more cost competitive, in order to meet infrastructure limitations, or to meet deployment targets or something similar.
Basically, we have some models that we put together that look at what the existing type of projects look like in terms of the technologies, the port resources, the vessels, the costs and so forth, and we try to explore these to see where the most meaningful cost reduction pathways can come from. In the last couple of years, that work has really expanded to include more of the supply chain and logistics as that's become a bigger and bigger challenge and opportunity for the industry.
Particularly as the turbines get bigger and bigger and as the technology advances at this really rapid pace, we need to understand how is it possible to even logistically install these projects, and how could that be tailored to meet the needs of the industry here in the US, which is just trying to get off the ground. So that's really been my focus here at the lab for the last couple of years.
Kristin Hayes: That's great. Certainly, I shared a little bit at the beginning about how the study came to be, but it sounds like even before that March, 2021 announcement, there was a sense that this line of inquiry around the supply chains was a priority for NREL. Is that right? So it's got a history? I understand there's a future too, this is the first in a two-part series. Maybe you can just help me explain the study just a little bit more.
Matt Shields: We originally wrote the proposal for this in 2019 before the Biden administration and the 30 gig offshore wind target. The study is funded through the National Offshore Wind R&D Consortium. The project that we proposed was to look at this offshore wind supply chain and really be a little bit more, I would say hypothetical about what it was going to look like. After the Biden administration made the announcement, there's been a slew of announcements from project developers, from technology providers, from people in the supply chain, showing really ramped up interest in investing in offshore wind in the US.
The project itself was very timely in that regard in that it was posing a lot of the questions that were relevant at the time. And then I think now, it's even more dovetailed with what industry is trying to develop on their own as well. The hope is that this particular project can help to provide more of a strategic look at how these individual announcements and individual motivations of players in the supply chain can be tied together to more efficiently develop the supply chain in the United States.
In general, that's why this study is a priority and an interest for NREL. We're certainly not the people that are going to be investing in these facilities or actually making the parts, for example, but we try to provide these strategic type viewpoints where I think we can represent both the industry perspectives, federal and state government perspectives, other key stakeholders in the industry, and sit in the middle of those different groups in order to show the potential benefits and opportunities for everybody involved in a domestic offshore wind supply chain.
Kristin Hayes: Yeah. Certainly, I've seen a number of those announcements recently about new areas open for leasing, new projects getting announced. Maybe we can talk just a bit about the pipeline of those offshore wind projects in the US. I have to say, I found it interesting, the report notes that—at least as of the time of publication, which is spring 2022—that goal of 30 gigawatts of installation can in fact already be met by planned capacity in either awarded or soon to be awarded lease areas. In other words, even with no new leases, we're on track to meet that 30 by 30 goal. Is that right? Have I interpreted that correctly?
Matt Shields: I think that's right. And of course, there are some nuances to discuss there. I think that from a pure space perspective, yes, what we discuss in the study and I think what we've viewed with some of the key regulatory bodies and developers and people that are going to be building the projects, we think that there is enough space in these lease areas and the lease areas that, for example, were just awarded a couple of weeks ago in the New York Bight, that there's enough real estate that we can get 30 gigawatts into the water by 2030. Now, that assessment does not necessarily identify the challenges in actually building those projects. The spaces there, the infrastructure, the grid connections, the ports and vessels, the permitting and regulatory environment might not be there.
I would say it's still not a certainty that we're going to be able to meet that target. There's quite a bit of work to be done in order to streamline the process and make sure that the supporting infrastructure and decision making and technology is there to allow it to be done. That's really one of the focuses of why we're working on the project to try to identify how we can move that part of the industry forward so that it doesn't become a bottleneck for that 30 gigawatts target. Then there are certainly other groups, including here at NREL, that are doing the same thing for grid transmission, or the permitting and regulatory environment, and so forth.
Kristin Hayes: I did notice too, that one of the things that you and your co-authors highlighted is that beyond the awarded and soon to be awarded lease areas, there are a number of areas that are in the queue, if you will, for leasing through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Maybe we can talk just a little bit about the pipeline beyond these awarded and soon to be awarded and why that matters. I thought you guys did a really good job of articulating what needs to happen beyond this initial set of leases as well. Can you say a little bit more about that?
Matt Shields: Yeah. Thanks so much for highlighting that. I think you've really identified a critical piece of the report and really the future perspectives on the industry as a whole. Just for context, if this is helpful, the way that the process works here is that BOEM, or the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is part of the Department of Interior controls the outer continental and the leasing of the sites which are going to be allocated for offshore wind.
They hold these lease auctions that give a project developer site control for a specified amount of time. Then during that time, they have to go through a series of permitting and environmental processes before they can actually get a construction plan approved and then go forth with building the project. So the focus of the deployment pipeline through 2030 that we talk about in the report is really areas that have already been awarded, or are planned, or had already been announced at the time of writing to be awarded this year, in 2022.
For example, that includes the New York Bight. These lease auctions were completed about a month ago. They were super exciting. The auction prices went for about 10 times what any previous offshore wind area had been leased for in the past. The most popular one went for over a billion dollars just to get site control for the offshore wind area. Then what we look at in the study is for these areas that have been awarded by the end of 2022, well, how long would it actually take to develop these? And when is it likely for these to start generating electricity?
That's what we refer to by the sites that can get us to 30 gigs by 2030. Now, beyond 2030, there is certainly an intent to continue the momentum of the offshore wind industry. We don't want to give the impression, which I think would be an incorrect impression, that we would get to 30 gigs by 2030, and then the industry would just stop, very much the opposite. The goal of BOEM and people that are advancing the industry in the US is to have a sustainable industry where we don't have a huge ramp up and then a drop off from year to year, which would obviously have adverse impacts on the supply chain and the workforce that might be working at capacity one year and then unemployed the next year. Nobody in the industry wants to see that happen.
BOEM is working to identify and announce some new leasing areas and leasing opportunities that will sustain that pipeline through the 2030s at a relatively constant rate. They've announced that later this year, they're going to lease some areas off of the Carolinas and in California, and that by the end of 2025, they plan on conducting additional leasing activities in the Gulf of Mexico, the central Atlantic, Oregon, and the Gulf of Maine. They haven't made any further announcements beyond that, but we think it's possible that we would see additional leasing opportunities beyond those ones that have already been announced. This would be a mix of fixed bottom and floating offshore wind.
We don't know the capacities for sure, but in evaluating how big some of the lease areas have been in the past that they've auctioned off, we think that this might be realistic to get another 10 to 15 gigawatts installed by 2035, so from 2030 to 2035. Again, with the target of maintaining these four or five gigawatts per year, to have a stable pipeline for the industry. This in itself is really valuable for the people in the supply chain that are looking at investing in new facilities, new workforce, new certifications, in order to know that you're going to have a relatively consistent customer or a relatively consistent business model going beyond that 2030 target.
Kristin Hayes: Right. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for talking through that. That struck me as a really interesting insight from the study, just the potential for demand drop off and how getting over that hump is equally important for the supply chain consideration. Where are most of these items currently produced in the world? If they're not produced here, where are they being produced? And when we're talking about building a domestic supply chain for these many complicated and large scale items, which one of these present the biggest challenges?
Matt Shields: All of these components are primarily built in Europe, and to some extent in Asia as well. The turbines themselves are not being manufactured in the US. We've broken ground on one foundation facility in New Jersey, which is going to make mono piles, which is one of the most common offshore wind foundations globally. We do have an operating export cable facility in South Carolina, which is owned and operated by a company called Nexans. They've actually already been producing export cable for offshore wind and have some overseas customers where they're shipping out cables to the UK.
The export cables are used to connect the offshore wind farm to the onshore grid. So we do have some operating capacity in the US. However, this is really a drop in the bucket of what we would need to have a full domestic offshore wind supply chain. In addition to the components themselves, we also have a big demand for vessels. Some of these vessels are relatively straightforward, where you may be able to repurpose vessels from, for example, the oil and gas industry in the US that could be used for particular aspects of offshore wind installation.
However, most of the vessels are highly specialized and essentially need to be built, or at least retrofit and customized for the offshore wind industry. I think the vessel that gets the most attention is this wind turbine installation vessel. This is the vessel which basically assembles the turbine and foundation out at sea at the project site. And there's probably only two of these vessels that can actually install this next generation of turbines, which are going to be built in the US—and when I say that, I mean there's only two vessels globally that can do that.
There are another six or seven, which are planned or announced or under construction, but this is certainly a bottleneck, which the industry is quite aware of. I think that when we talk about the challenges of building out a domestic supply chain, we need to understand that, I think first and foremost, the US does not operate in a vacuum. There are substantial offshore wind targets in Europe and Asia that existing supply chains and vessels are already going to have to support. Many of the components, these foundations, these turbines, and so forth, right now they're being built in huge offshore wind hubs. Basically, a combination of port and manufacturing facilities in Northern Europe, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and so forth.
The capacity of these facilities is going to be pretty maxed out in order to meet the ambitious offshore wind targets that Europe has by 2030. It's not necessarily fair to assume that the US can just order the components that they need from these international fabricators. It's a fairly significant risk to the 30 gigawatts target that we wouldn't be able to source the components we need if there isn't a domestic supply chain. I think that is certainly a point which is an important takeaway from the study that we found, which is that if the US wants to be able to meet this 30 gigawatts target, it would be a significant advantage to have a domestic supply chain to source those components from.
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Kristin Hayes: Yeah, it definitely sounds like the US has our work cut out for us in terms of the volume of material needed and the complexity of the material needed. But one of the sections that I found most interesting in the report was the section on port readiness, which is another component of building a domestic supply chain, something that I don't think about very often, but of course, as I was reading through the study made perfect sense that not every port would be ready for these kinds of vessels and this kind of service. So the study notes that only one port on the East Coast, and in fact, zero ports on the West Coast are currently well suited to offshore wind deployment.
What actually makes a port suitable for that? And what would it take for us to get more ports ready here in the US?
Matt Shields: There's a lot to discuss here with ports that can service the offshore wind industry. The first thing that I should say is that, although we do feel that ports are going to be a challenge for the industry, project developers and port operators are actively working on solutions to this, and they're going to find ways to make it work. There are these major limitations, but that doesn't mean that projects aren't going to get built. The question is more of, how can we set up our infrastructure to build projects efficiently and reduce delays and cost overruns and so forth? I think some background context might be helpful to discuss what the role of the port is for offshore wind.
The way that an offshore wind project is built involves staging these major components—like foundations, towers, the cells, and blades—at a marshalling port, then transporting them to the offshore wind site, and then building them up piece by piece using these highly specialized wind turbine installation vessels. Just for reference, each blade for these new offshore wind turbines which will be used in the US is going to be over 100 meters long and is going to be installed about 130 meters above sea level. The size and scale of these components is just staggering and really needs these highly specialized pieces of equipment to install them.
On top of which even the fabricating these components needs to be done at a port because the components are so big that you can't move them on roads, you can't move them via a railway. You basically have to float them to the marshalling site and then transport them out to sea. There are two physical constraints that drive the complexity of the port operations. The first of which is, again, the size of these components. Second is the core bonding size of the vessel that you need to install them. As you can imagine, to install a blade 130 meters above sea level, you need a vessel that can reach that high, and it can do it in a stable manner so that you can actually attach the blade to the rest of the turbine.
Then a further complication is that there's a regulation called the Jones Act in the United States, which means that a vessel transiting between two ports in US waters has to be built in the United States, US flagged, owned by a US owner and crewed by a US crew. And an offshore wind turbine counts as a port. So that means it has to be a US vessel going back and forth from the port at the shore to the wind turbine itself. That's another complicating factor. In Europe, most projects historically have been installed with one wind turbine installation vessel going back and forth from the port to the site, picking up the components along the way, handling the transportation, and then the installation of the components.
What we present in this report shows that many projects in the US will not be able to do this because of these physical restrictions, like channel depth or low bridges. That means that the wind turbine installation vessel can't get to many of the ports on the East Coast, or even if they can get up the channel, they can't dock, they can't load components and they couldn't get them back out to sea. And then second as I had mentioned before, there just simply aren't enough of these vessels worldwide that can handle this next generation of 15 megawatt turbines. There is a little bit of a challenge in this question of how does this interrelation between ports and vessels work and how can we actually install projects given the challenges of ports and the availability of vessels?
What we really highlight in the report is that there's only one port on the East Coast that's already well suited to have a wind turbine installation vessel basically sail up to the dock, load components and sail back out to the site. However, there are more ports that are acceptable for feeder barges, which are smaller and maybe simpler vessels that you can basically use just to transport components. So you would sail a feeder barge to the port, load the components, the feeder barge sails out to the project site where the wind turbine installation vessel is waiting to install the components.
This actually has some advantages, it's probably cheaper for the project and will take less time because this expensive and specialized wind turbine installation vessel is exclusively working on installing components, it's not transiting back and forth. But it's also a riskier operation because there's more at sea operations, you're transferring a component from one vessel to another, you have more weather delays, and there may be more exposure of the workforce to these types of conditions. There's challenges posed there as well. What has to happen here is that the port and vessel development in the US has to happen almost in parallel with these projects.
The challenge is that the design of the vessels, the design of the port, and the design of the turbine need to be synchronized. As turbines get bigger, you need to have a vessel that can lift it. As that vessel gets bigger, it's harder and harder to get into the port. So, it's really this systems problem that would really benefit from coordination between all these different entities in the supply chain. Then I think that certainly there's a role that investment can play in shoring up the capabilities at the different ports and helping to finance the investment in new vessels and so forth. But honestly, a problem that we see is just space. There's not a lot of space or locations on the East Coast where you can build a new port.
I think we're going to have to see this scenario where there's a coordinated approach with all these different ports in all the different states, understanding what role they can play and how they can share the load to develop offshore wind. Some of these ports that might be located pretty far up the Hudson River in New York, for example, may be unable to be this marshalling port, because you can't get a wind turbine installation vessel under some of the bridges going up the Hudson River. However, that could be a manufacturing port or a fabrication port for particular components. And that would potentially relieve some of the pressure on the marshalling ports, as well as creating more opportunities for those other areas and other communities that may be looking to get involved in offshore wind.
There's a lot of opportunities like that where if we can strategically plan what role different entities can play in a supply chain in the US, it may first have the opportunity to create more benefits that could be distributed amongst these different groups, as well as making it more likely that we actually meet this 30 gigawatts target by 2030.
Kristin Hayes: Matt, that's a great lead into my next question because you've been mentioning communities and communities that might actually benefit from the many pieces of the supply chain, particularly if they can be distributed. Let's turn to communities and in particular to jobs estimates. The study spends some time on jobs estimates stemming from a more robust domestic manufacturing industry for offshore wind. If there's anything that I've learned from working with economists for many years, it's that job estimates are notoriously tricky. So how did you and your team set about developing those job estimates and what did you find?
Matt Shields: Yeah, we would certainly agree. I think it's a challenging area to dive into. Luckily, NRE and some of my co-authors on the study are actively maintaining and using some economic development models. We have a model called JEDI, the Jobs and Economic Development Impact model. What we're able to do with that model is link the supply chain demand that we come up with in this paper, so the number of components and the type of components and the scheduling for them, we estimate the capital costs for all of those, basically how much investment is needed to build those.
Then we are able to use an economic input/output model to scale from the costs of the components, to the number and type and distribution of jobs that are needed to build those. What we come up with is that there's a lot of jobs that are needed if we're going to be manufacturing these thousands of turbines domestically. We tried to provide a range in this study because the future path to how these components would be built can evolve in a lot of different ways, so we bracketed it. We said, at a minimum, maybe we say there's 25 percent domestic content at a maximum 100 percent domestic content. In reality, we think probably the truth is somewhere in the middle and will certainly grow over time as there's more domestic capabilities.
But we see on the order of an average of between 12,000 and almost 50,000 annual jobs that could be used to manufacture all the components for offshore wind. What I personally found really interesting in this was that the majority of those jobs are what are called “indirect jobs.” So, if you think of a direct job, that's the people that are in that finishing factory, putting the final component together, whereas the indirect jobs are the underlying supply chain that could be contributing to that. In some cases we saw as many as maybe two thirds of the jobs per component, maybe in that “indirect” category.
What that really means is that, while we see announcements for these final offshore wind component facilities like a blade or a foundation or in a cell, and those would be located in one particular state, that doesn't necessarily mean that all of the benefits and jobs from that state would be contained within those borders. There's a big indirect supply chain, which is going to feed into those factories, which may be distributed among neighboring states or even throughout the entire country. We see states in the Rust Belt and the Gulf of Mexico, like I mentioned there's an offshore wind vessel being built in Texas.
There are a lot of states that have the opportunity to contribute to the offshore wind industry, and I think that's a big takeaway that we plan on sharing in the second phase of this study as we try to categorize what those benefits are and how they can be distributed regionally throughout the United States.
Kristin Hayes: Unfortunately we are getting low on time, I feel like I could ask you many more questions about yaw and pitch bearings and flanges and all the other wonderful items referenced in the report, but we should close. And let's close with our regular feature called top of the stack. I would welcome any recommendation you might have for more good content, either related to this topic or otherwise that you might want to share with our listeners. So Matt, what's on the top of your stack?
Matt Shields: Well, I'll take the opportunity to plug the next phase of our report, which will come out later this year, which is going to build off of what we did in this report, and look a little bit more at what that domestic supply chain might look like in 2030. So we understand the demand a little bit better, now, what might it look like to build those facilities? Where might they go? What investment might be needed? What specific type of jobs might be needed in those factories? And what enabling mechanisms might let us get there by 2030? Please do keep an eye out for that later this year.
I tend to point people towards a couple of other good offshore wind reports. There's an annual offshore wind market report, which is published by the Department of Energy with a lot of NRE authors in it that gives a good status update of what the state of the industry is every year. There's a recent publication from the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind out of the University of Delaware that looks at the supply chain capital expenditures, which we might need to get to 30 gigawatts by 2030. I think that's a nice compliment to the report that we just published. They find that it's probably a $100 billion industry by 2030 to get to these 30 gigawatt goals.
A third point that I would note is that some of my co-authors on the report, the Business Network for Offshore Wind do manage a podcast called the Offshore Wind Insider, which has some really wide range of topics that they cover ranging from the grid to workforce, to policy, to specific projects and so forth. I think that's a good one to check out. In the non-offshore-wind space, I've got two little kids at home. So my reading time has been pretty much focused on animals and construction equipment recently, but I did just read a book called The Black Swan by Nicholas Taleb, which looks at risks and how to manage risk, particularly low probability, high-impact risks, which I think has a lot of good parallels to the offshore industry. I found that one pretty interesting. I'd highly recommend it.
Kristin Hayes: Great. Well, thank you so much. Thanks for talking through this report with us, for the recommendations for the future. I'll be on the lookout for the second half of the report later this year.
Matt Shields: Thanks so much. I'd love to come back and talk about it when we publish the next one.
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