The construction of offshore wind farms in Poland’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the Baltic Sea is a technological, financial and logistical challenge. Polish harbors have to be ready to compete with their veteran counterparts that for years have been offering various logistical services for offshore installations. However, before that happens they need multi-billion infrastructural investments. This is where the National Recovery Plan may step in – Mariusz Marszałkowski, editor at BiznesAlert.pl, writes.
Offshore wind farms – a new opening for Poland’s power industry
Together with Polish nuclear energy, prosumer PV installations and natural gas, offshore wind farms will be a part of the Polish energy mix after the transition. In fact the wind farms are to be one of the main elements of this energy cake.
According to the strategic document The Polish Energy Policy until 2040, in 2030 the participation of offshore wind in the energy mix is to reach 5.9 GW (13.2 percent of the entire power in the energy mix), and in 2040 11 GW (19.3 percent). However, the Baltic’s wind potential is a lot bigger, so these numbers may go up together with, among others, the development of wind turbine technology. The plan is to build at least a thousand wind turbines in the Baltic in the next 10-15 years. This may cost up to PLN 160 bn.
However, to achieve this, a comprehensive logistical and infrastructural support base is necessary. It will be responsible for preparing the assembly parts for farms, storage, transport and the final installation. At this point Poland has neither the experience nor the necessary infrastructure to ensure the above.
The schedule seems very tight. The construction of the first offshore wind farm in the Baltic is to start in 2023, which is well before the planned opening of the installation terminal in Gdynia, that is to be ready by the fourth quarter of 2024. However, probably this is not the final set up, because in the end the installation port should be located by the planned external harbor. According to the plan, the investment is to be ready by the end of 2025 and it should be operational as of 2026. The installation harbor is to take up 30 hectars and have a waterfront long enough to accommodate two installation vessels at once.
What if the harbor is not built?
If a harbor capable of servicing installation ships is not ready, there is a huge risk that at least the first wind farms built between 2023 and 2027 will have to use foreign ports, including Germany’s Mukran.
Mukran is under the administrative supervision of the Sassnitz port, it is located on the eastern shore of the Rügen island. In the past, it was an important transshipment point, handling goods to and from Scandinavia and Russia, because of its broad-gauge railway. However, the development of bridge and railway infrastructure, coupled with worsening economic relations with Russia have led to a steady decline in the number of trans-shipments at the Sassnitz Fahrhafen port. Mukran’s hope for a better future arrived with the Nord Stream projects. Gazprom and its partners chose it as their main installation port for the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, because of the port’s location and existing railway infrastructure. New facilities were built at Mukran to run the projects, including a Wasco Coating factory where pipes are coated with concrete. Additionally, warehouse space was developed, reloading infrastrcuture was expanded, the waterway was deepened and a special external waterfront was built to, among others, load pipes on supply ships. The Polish-Danish Baltic Pipe project will use Mukran as its installation port as well. Mukran’s transformation is perfectly pictured by two satellite photos from 2006 and 2018.
Another contributor to the port’s rapid development was its role in the construction of offshore wind farms in the German EEZ. Mukran is the installation port for the Arkona offshore wind farm, which has 60, 6 MW turbines. The farm is located a little under 40 km north-east of the Rügen.
The Ronne harbor located on the western shore of the Danish Isle of Bornholm could be an alternative to the German port. It has a 15-hectare storage area and a waterfront ready to provide services to installation vessels. It is also an installation port for the biggest wind farm in the Baltic – Kiegers Flak, whose target installed capacity is 600 MW.
Time is running out
Poland is running out of time to expand its harbor infrastructure. The country’s major energy companies have to meet their auction obligations to generate power, which means the installation works should start in the Polish EEZ already in 2024. Moreover, just like in the case of technology and financing, when it comes to organizing the construction of the farm, Polish energy companies engaged in offshore wind will have to adapt to their partners. In case of Denmark’s Ørsted, which is the partner of PGE in the Baltica-2 and Baltica-3 projects in a 50/50 formula, it might be suggested that the parties should use the port in Ronne, which is ready to handle such endeavors. The Baltica-3 farm needs to be up and running already in 2026, and that strict deadline may contribute to choosing the Danish option. PGE has ensured it would like to use a Polish installation port, but that may not be enough in the context of such an important project as the offshore wind farm.
It is worth remembering that the life cycle of an offshore wind farm is estimated at 25 years, which means the operation and maintenance of such an installation be will very important as well. According to the government plans included in the National Recovery Plan (KPO), the Ustka and Łeba ports could play this role. Thanks to the funds from the KPO, the necessary infrastructure in those locations will be built, which will make it possible to provide services for offshore wind farms. Those investments include: deepening of the waterways, modernization and expansion of the breakwaters, and adapting the waterfront to accommodate the farm’s maintenance ships. Poland can count on receiving EUR 437 million to adapt the port infrastructure in Gdynia, Łeba and Ustka from the European Recovery Package. The rest will come from the state budget and investors. The projects are to be implemented in the public private partnership formula.
Offshore wind farms – what are the benefits?
Owning our own installation and maintenance ports is not just a whim, or a manifestation of economic patriotism, regardless of how one defines this term. Such harbors offer an opportunity to build a comprehensive supply chain for components manufactured by local suppliers and used to build and maintain offshore wind farms (local content).
Offshore wind farms and installation/maintenance ports require specialized and dedicated industries, but can also be drivers behind the already functioning segments of the Polish economy.
In 2020 during the DISE conference Michał Kurtyka, the Minister of Climate and the Environment, said that the offshore wind sector may create over 60 thousand high-paying jobs, mostly in the coastal regions. This is an opportunity to revive not just the shipyard industry and increase the importance and attractiveness of Polish ports, but also an occasion for Polish research centers and universities, which will have to educate the staff that will build and maintain wind farms in the Baltic. One should also remember that other states by the Baltic Sea have ambitious plans about developing their offshore wind capabilities. They could potentially use not just our experience, but also technologies and services offered by our ports. Offshore wind farms are an opportunity not just for the Polish energy industry that is looking for new, zero-emission sources, but also for the country’s entire economy, and especially those sectors that work in the maritime and coastal business.