What role can SME cluster projects have in green offshore?

Offshore development can contribute towards green sustainable energy in the long term. Nnamdi Anyadike asks if its prospects can be greatly enhanced through cluster projects? 

Credit: Thorsten Schier via Shutterstock 

If offshore development is to contribute towards ‘green’ sustainable energy in the longer term, its prospects will be greatly enhanced through cluster projects. ‘GreenOffShore’ is just such a cluster-facilitated European project that has the purpose of supporting innovation in ‘Small and Medium-sized Enterprises’ (SMEs) in the creation of new offshore products, processes and services. The ambition is to make offshore production and transport green, clean and sustainable. Its aim is to help create a resource-efficient economy by bringing together Europe’s leading clusters and SME intermediaries from Norway, Portugal, Latvia, Poland, Iceland, Scotland, and Germany. 

GreenOffshoreTech is providing €3m in direct support to clusters such as the Maritime Cluster Northern Germany (MCN), one of the largest in Europe. This funding will help promote and consolidate collaboration within the maritime industry in Northern Germany. GreenOffshoreTech is also supporting BALanceTechnology Consulting GmbH in Germany. This is an R&D-performing SME offering special software solutions and technology consulting services to industry and governmental bodies. Elsewhere in Europe, the project supports the Polish research and development institution, Instytut Gospodarki Surowcami Mineralnymi I Energia Pan, which works in the field of mineral and energy management. 

UK launches cluster initiatives 

In addition to the GreenOffshoreTech initiative there are also a number of similar cluster schemes and initiatives in the UK that are either in operation or in the pipeline. In October, UK Science Minister George Freeman announced that regional SME innovation clusters will receive up to £75m boost to their economies

The funding comes on the back of successful ‘Launchpad’ pilot projects in Liverpool and Teesside that were rolled out earlier this year. Launchpads are local programmes that support emerging clusters of SMEs with up to £7.5 million from Innovate UK to fund innovation projects. “A further eight Launchpads, funded by Innovate UK, will be rolled out across every nation of the UK,” he said. In its strategic delivery plan, the UK wants to establish “up to 10” Launchpad investments by 2025. 

In Scotland, Scottish Enterprise has now appointed the global energy consultancy Xodus Group to the role of ‘Offshore Wind Cluster Builder’. Its role is to develop and grow the offshore wind supply chain across Scotland. This will support the country’s existing offshore wind clusters, DeepWind and Forth and Tay Offshore and improve productivity in Scottish Offshore Wind. 

David Webster of Forth & Tay Offshore said: “We are looking to build on the opportunity from the growing pipeline of Scottish, UK and global offshore wind projects.” Paul O’Brien of DeepWind added: “The Cluster Builder initiative offers our SME members a further layer of support to help them navigate the complex offshore wind supply chain landscape.” 

In Wales, the Offshore Energy Alliance (OEA) aims to realise North Wales’ low-carbon potential by pulling together the activities of offshore wind and other low carbon energy projects along the North Wales coast for the benefit of the local supply chain. The North Wales coast is viewed as a prime location to take advantage of growing demand for low-carbon energy production. The OEA will help build on existing capabilities to further develop local SMEs, skills and innovation institutions across the region. The project aims to deliver enough low-carbon electricity to power 3.4 million homes. 

Unlike road vehicles, electrification seemingly has a limited capacity to decarbonise aviation and shipping

Gavin John Lockyer, CEO of Arafura Resources

North Sea Cluster project shows encouraging results 

However, it is the North Sea ports and coastlines that provide the most potential. Results from the EU funded ‘Inn2POWER’ project, which ran from 2016 to April this year, are regarded as encouraging. The interregional Inn2POWER project aimed to expand and foster innovation by improving access to the offshore wind industry as well as promoting green hydrogen for SMEs in the North Sea Region. One of the participants, Energy Cluster Denmark, reported that the project has already created 1,700 SMEs, resulting in both new networks and more ‘intelligent port’ areas. 

“After four years, the results show that the project has driven the establishment of international contacts and collaborations across the North Sea,” said an Energy Cluster Denmark document. “A database of test facilities has been established – with more than 100 different test facilities across the North Sea made available to both small and large companies,” it continued. 

Inn2POWER has now added transparency to the wind industry and its supply chain. The project partners said, "The Inn2POWER project is helping to achieve the target of at least 76 GW of offshore wind by 2030, endorsed by the North Sea’s Energy Cooperation ministers in September." 

The 2030 target is followed by targets of at least 193GW by 2040 and at least 260GW by 2050. But the project is also acting as an additional spur to green hydrogen, which is expected to play a key role in the transition to net zero across European societies. The project partners believe the development of a market for green hydrogen and the commercialisation of the respective technology will create qualified jobs across the continent. 

"The combination of the wind industry, the maritime industry, and the emerging hydrogen economy creates an important employment and export potential for SMEs in Europe, especially in coastal regions", they added. 

If we set a target for a 5% SAF blend, India will require around 700 million litres of SAF per year

Synergies sought between ‘green’ shipping and ‘cluster’ ports 

Meanwhile, the maritime sector which contributes around 3% of global emissions is battling to decarbonise through the creation of ‘green’ shipping could benefit from some of these upcoming cluster projects. Berthed ships need electricity to support various operations like loading, unloading, lighting and other onboard activities. This power has traditionally been provided by fuel engines, but these emit carbon dioxide. 

An alternative could be to hook up vessels to onshore power supplies. Currently though, neither the ports nor the vessels are equipped for power to be supplied in that manner. “Standardisation of onshore power supply would need to be measured. But no international standard is in place,” Jonathan Moss, the Global Head of Transport Sector at legal services provider DWF told Power Technology

All of this could be enhanced through cluster programmes, which could create synergies that link ‘green shipping’ to enhanced port facilities. In the UK, a group of leading international ports are collaborating through the ‘2050 Maritime Innovation Hub’ to launch a Maritime Data Cluster aimed at accelerating the green ‘smart port’ revolution. This is expected to help achieve collective, workable solutions for the industry in areas such as health and safety, clean energy, decarbonisation, cyber security and asset management. Data sharing will play a key role in helping to create the port infrastructure capable of handling ‘green shipping’. 

In Denmark, the ‘Green Ship of the Future (GSF)’ partnership is looking to develop and test environment- and climate- friendly technologies that increase energy efficiency and reduce operational costs. Various technologies from the GSF projects have been implemented on two ‘concept’ ships to show the possible overall emission reductions when the technologies are implemented in the design phase. Significant emission reductions were achieved for the two ships. 

GSF’s overall target is to reduce total CO2 emissions by 30%, total SOx emissions by 90% and total NOx emissions by 90%. The results from individual GSF projects are encouraging as they have come close to or even surpassed these targets. GSF partners have also developed ways to recover wasted heat either as electrical power or use it to heat up the cargo areas. The focus is on installing Waste Heat Recovery Utilization systems while retaining the ship’s basic design. 

“Reusing the waste heat from engines to heat up cargo areas can save up to 20% of a ship’s total annual fuel consumption,” said a GSF statement. Recovering waste heat as electrical power can save up to 8 tons of fuel oil per day for a tanker that would normally use 42 tons per day. In GSF tests, emissions were reduced up to 14% by recovering otherwise wasted heat as electrical power.