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Port construction potential: Offshore opportunity

Publication of strike prices for renewable energy has opened up the possibility of a port construction boom in the UK. Jon Masters looks at the opportunities this presents.

Offshore wind power

Offshore wind power is expected to supply 7GW to the National Grid by 2020

Construction firms in general, and ground engineering businesses in particular, can look forward to some substantial work at UK ports within the next 12 to 18 months. Confidence has grown in the likelihood of an acceleration of port expansion schemes, following government announcements relating to offshore wind developments.

In December 2013 the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) published strike prices - the amount guaranteed to energy companies per megawatt hour of electricity produced - for a full range of renewable technologies.

At the same time DECC announced a list of projects qualifying for £40bn of long-term investment, with a firm nod towards offshore wind.

The whole supply chain has been waiting for certainty of UK investment. Meanwhile, German and Dutch ports have built the necessary capacity

Some very big port developments are needed for the specific demands of constructing and supporting these wind farms, including deep water berths and heavily reinforced quays and storage areas, backed up by large-scale facilities for logistics support.

Belfast Harbour, for example, is supporting installation of the 389MW West of Duddon Sands array in the Irish Sea following completion of a £51M port project by Farrans Construction. This involved building a 500m long deep water quay on 20ha of land reclaimed using 1Mt of imported aggregate and rock armour. The quay wall was constructed from 37m long, 1.6m diameter steel tubes and 22m long heavy sheet piles tied back to an anchor beam supported on 30m deep 762mm diameter raking tubes.

A number of UK ports are positioning themselves as long-term business partners for the offshore wind industry, offering sites to house turbine and foundations manufacturing and operational and maintenance support alongside deep water harbours.

“DECC has published a list of 30 to 40 UK ports with potential. The likely reality is that only a few will develop to form the large-scale hubs needed to support the bigger projects,” says Volker Wessels UK development director Keith Maplethorpe.

“A lot of ports have drawn up plans to pitch themselves for this work, but the whole supply chain has been waiting for certainty of UK investment. Meanwhile, German and Dutch ports have built the necessary capacity,” Maplethorpe adds.

Leading contender

Green Port Hull is a leading contender for development on the Humber following Associated British Port’s signing of a memorandum of understanding with turbine manufacturer Siemens. Another is Able Marine Energy Park (AMEP) on the south bank of the Humber Estuary, which received development consent in December last year.

According to a spokesman for Able UK, main contractors have been shortlisted for £450M of work at the AMEP site, including construction of 1.3km of deep-water quays designed to withstand 17m of water depth and loads up to 500kN/m2.

“These will be among the world’s heaviest quays and firm foundations are needed for berthing heavy jack-up vessels, so there will be a lot of ground engineering and enabling works across the 340ha site,” the spokesman says.

Work on the deep-water berths and quays cannot start until a £37M environmental compensation site has been completed on the north bank of the Humber. Neither will get under way until a number of manufacturers and suppliers under commercial offer from Able UK receive their confirmation of orders from the power companies developing offshore wind sites in the North Sea.

Able UK is hopeful of this happening over coming months.

“We will be organising a supply chain event in the first half of this year to talk to construction companies,” Able UK’s spokesman says. “We want to start enabling works in September 2014 and quay construction in 2015, so we have got to start the environmental mitigation this year.”

Although it is not yet known which ports will be favoured by the power generating companies, what is clear is that even the feasibility and preparation work will benefit the ground engineering market.

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