A plan for energising Australia with offshore wind, ensures our baseload power can withstand the winds of change while getting steel fabricators busy

Offshore energy is booming as a prospective means of introducing new large-scale electricity generation into our networks. Around the world, there are great examples of working structures well away offshore, pulling clean power out of the wind, where it blows the strongest. It’s a wind win.

Oceanex Energy is developing three offshore wind farms off the coast of NSW: Novocastrian Offshore Wind Farm, Illawarra Offshore Wind Farm and Eden Offshore Wind Farm.

The Novocastrian Offshore Wind Farm is a 2,000MW (2GW) floating offshore wind farm proposed by project partners Oceanex Energy and Equinor Australia. The Project provides an incredible opportunity for the Hunter Region, the state of New South Wales and Australia, to be a world leader in the growing offshore wind industry. The Hunter can be a regional powerhouse in the development, manufacturing and deployment of floating offshore wind farms powering NSW and Australia to a new, clean energy future.

Offshore wind generation off the Hunter coast has a steady, high wind profile that generates at peak electricity usage times, fills gaps from other renewable sources and supports NSW’s planned future energy mix. The Project’s 2GW size and proximity to the existing port and grid infrastructure enables the delivery of a new bulk source of electricity to consumers with minimal transmission upgrades. The Project will create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment for the Hunter region and its people, over its 30-year lifespan. Skills from mining, power generation, manufacturing, land and marine logistics, project management and administration will be transferred into the offshore wind industry.

The Novocastrian Offshore Wind Farm was identified in 2020 as the key to unlocking the opportunity for a new NSW offshore wind industry by Oceanex Founders, Andy Evans and Peter Sgardelis (also co-founders of the Star of the South). The significant potential of the Hunter, with its combination of strong wind resources, deep coastal waters, port facilities, grid infrastructure and an industrial legacy, makes it ideal for floating offshore wind at scale.

Equinor is the global leader in floating offshore wind, as the developer and operator of the Hywind Scotland and Hywind Tampen wind farms, with the latter project being the largest floating offshore wind farm in operation when commissioned recently in August 2023. Equinor operates nearly 50% of the world’s existing floating offshore wind capacity and is one of the world’s largest broad energy companies with a market capitalisation of over $150bn, bringing unparalleled global experience in introducing floating offshore wind farms into new markets.

Oceanex and Equinor plan to develop, construct and operate Australia’s first floating offshore wind farm.

Since starting in 2020, Oceanex has been building a team of local and global expertise and knows what is required to deliver floating offshore wind for the Hunter, NSW and Australia. “Together with Equinor,” said Oceanex Energy’s COO Emily Scivetti, “we have more than 50 years’ experience in establishing, developing, and operating major offshore energy projects.”

Oceanex was the first developer in Australia to release an offshore wind Supply Chain Investment and Investment Opportunities Report in 2022. Andy Evans is the CEO and founder of Oceanex and also the former CEO and co-founder of the Star of the South (proposed 2GW offshore wind farm off the coast of Victoria). “Andy has 20 years of experience in Australia’s energy sector,” added Scivetti, “and has been heavily involved in the development of renewable energy projects since 2006, firstly in onshore wind and bioenergy, before introducing offshore wind to Australia in 2012.”

Equinor has established offshore wind operations and projects in Norway, the US, UK, Poland, and South Korea in the past five years. Consistent with our intentions for the Hunter, Equinor has strategically scaled its operations in these geographies to support project development in regional clusters. Equinor has established a regional base across the Asia Pacific of some 90 staff experienced in offshore wind and floating technology, backed by the global reach of over 22,000 employees with over 600 specialists in offshore wind project delivery.

Why offshore?

Offshore wind can supply baseload power to the NSW grid when it is needed most. For example, during the evening peak which AEMO calls maximum operational demand, offshore wind can fill in generation to complement other onshore energy generation.

“Australia already should be a global offshore wind superpower,” the Climate Council’s Chief Councillor Professor Tim Flannery has said. “In fact, if all the current proposed offshore wind farms were built, their combined energy capacity would be greater than all of Australia’s coal-fired power stations.”

NSW needs large-scale new electricity generation to replace retiring coal-fired power stations and meet forecast electricity demand to ensure energy security. NSW has the highest and fastest-growing population of any state in Australia, with over 8.2 million residents and is home to Australia’s largest aluminium manufacturer which is also NSW’s largest power consumer. Coal continues to be the primary fuel source for NSW’s electricity. Around 70% of NSW’s delivered electricity comes from four coal generation plants scheduled to retire in the next 10-15 years.

Offshore wind provides large-scale generation and has a complementary generation profile to onshore wind and solar, which generally generates during the day, with offshore wind profiling studies undertaken showing that the wind at sea generates during peak periods late in the day and complements other generation at those times to ‘firm’ energy supply. Offshore wind is stronger and more abundant than onshore renewable generation. Offshore wind also better corresponds to peak electricity demand. Offshore wind along the NSW coastline is more consistent and stronger in the afternoon and evening when electricity demand is high. In addition, at times when hot weather pushes electricity demand higher than usual, the differential between land and sea temperatures causes sea winds to pick up, in what is known as the ‘sea breeze effect.’ This can put more offshore wind power on the grid when it is needed. In times of extreme weather change when once again grid prices are extremely high, offshore wind is first to utilise climatic changes like ‘southerly busters’ contributing to supply.

“Our three NSW projects are essentially 2,000MW electricity generation plants at sea,” explained Scivetti. “Each project can be achieved in one consolidated process requiring one set of plans, permits, easements, connection agreements, financing and contracts.” The equivalent in onshore renewable generation being through an equal mix of multiple onshore wind and solar projects of approximately 3,000MW (due to lower capacity factors).

One key differentiator of offshore wind is it is located close to load centres which means it does not need hundreds of kilometres of high-voltage transmission to get the power to where it is needed (compared with the NSW renewable energy zones). An offshore wind farm is bulk energy generation that uses a submarine cable to export the power ~20km back to shore. “If we meet roadblocks or delays with onshore transmission infrastructure, then we need to be progressing alternatives off the coast to ensure we keep the lights on and manufacturers in business,” she added.

“If we want to meet Australia’s international obligations under the Paris Agreement, we need to electrify everything and then use renewable energy sources to generate electricity,” said Scivetti. “The NSW coal fleet retires in the next decade so we need to urgently secure replacement generation and we don’t think we can keep the lights on or decarbonise the grid without the bulk scale energy generated from offshore wind.”

“NSW manufacturers such as Tomago and BlueScope need massive, reliable loads to maintain current operations and transition to green (these are separate and distinct goals). BlueScope will need 15 times its current electricity demand to transition to green steel and Tomago is Australia’s largest single energy consumer. We believe offshore wind is critical to keep Australian manufacturing operating and maintain competitive exports,” Scivetti added.

Floating foundation technology proposed for NSW projects creates an immense opportunity for the Australian steel supply chain. The modular design of floating technology creates opportunities within the manufacturing, assembly and installation of the floating substructures. These opportunities could bring a variety of Australian companies into collaboration with global technology leaders, enabling industrialised supply chains that balance local content, cost and schedule for asset owners. Equinor has a track record of maximising local content through designing floating foundation technology to suit local capabilities and we intend to design large parts of the Project to stimulate the local supply chain and support the earliest possible construction, installation and operation of the Project.

It is estimated that the Novocastrian Offshore Wind Farm will need the following steel components:

COMPONENTS QUANTITY WEIGHT (TONNES)
Wind turbine tower 134 134,000
Floating foundation 134 530,000
Anchors 402 80,000

 

Timing is everything

According to the PwC Report commissioned by Novocastrian Wind in early 2023, the Project will increase the Hunter gross regional product by $44.3bn over its lifecycle.

Since originating industrial-scale offshore wind in NSW in 2020, we have observed the following industry milestones:

  • Australia’s offshore wind legislation was tabled in parliament by Angus Taylor in May 2021. (Peter Dutton was Minister for Defence and Leader of the House. Barnaby Joyce was Deputy Prime Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Regional Development).
  • The Albanese Government was elected to office in May 2022.
  • The Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act 2021 came into effect in June 2022.

“In that same month, Oceanex Energy wrote to Minister Chris Bowen, along with a delegation of organisations from across the Hunter Region of NSW, the biggest regional economy in Australia valued at over $65bn per annum. Along with organisations such as Tomago Aluminium, University of Newcastle, Newcastle City Council and Ampcontrol, together we pledged our support for an offshore wind industry and reinforced why the Hunter Region is the perfect location to become the home of Australia’s floating offshore wind industry,” said Scivetti. With established large-scale, heavy industries in power, mining, manufacturing, engineering and logistics, aided by a world-class deep water port, the Hunter region is primed to take advantage of this growing sector and to become a leader in the deployment of floating foundation offshore wind farms.

In August 2022, Minister Bowen started the regulatory process for Australia’s first offshore wind zone in Victoria within three months of starting office and announced a total of six proposed offshore regions to establish a new Australian offshore wind industry:

  • Bass Strait off Gippsland in Victoria (Andy and Peter received an exploration licence from the Morrison Government in early 2019 for Star of the South which is why this is the most progressed project)
  • Pacific Ocean region off the Hunter in NSW
  • Pacific Ocean region off the Illawarra in NSW
  • Southern Ocean region off Portland in Victoria
  • Bass Strait region off Northern Tasmania
  • Indian Ocean region off Perth/Bunbury in WA

“We have also seen great progress with supply chain development,” Scivetti explained. “These projects will not succeed without local support and critical enabling infrastructure such as ports. Since the inception of our projects, we have focussed heavily on helping the industry understand the requirements, scale and opportunities that offshore wind provides. As evidence of this, both Port of Newcastle and NSW Ports/Port Kembla have publicly announced intentions to assess and develop offshore wind construction precincts.”

“The timeline above demonstrates that Australia can move swiftly, and the Albanese Government should be congratulated on its progress,” Scivetti added. “Compared with other nations starting their own offshore wind industries, Australia has established a solid regulatory framework in good time. The global industry is very encouraged by the speed of announcements, but we need licences issued urgently to progress projects, keep the attention of global investors and secure our production slots to build Australia projects.”

 

oceanexenergy.com.au