North Star Renewables was recently awarded contracts to build three brand-new service operation vessels (SOVs) to support Dogger Bank Wind Farm – the world’s largest offshore wind farm, set to produce 3.6GW once completed. Equinor, SSE Renewables and Eni have partnered in a joint venture to build and operate the North Sea project, located 130km from the Yorkshire coast. As North Star’s first contract within the renewable energy market, this is no mean feat, rapidly repositioning the company as a major player in the field.
Matthew Gordon, CEO of North Star, comments on why he feels they were successful:
“This is not something we rushed into, having taken the last two and a half years to learn the renewables market and really understand the challenges. We have the taken time to bring in the right people and meet client requirements by adapting to customer demand. Our comprehension of the sector and its challenges, plus the added value we could offer, combined with our tuned vessel design made us stand out. We have focused on optimising workability, safety, comfort, sustainability and uptime, working closely with our technology partners at each stage to achieve all this and ultimately reducing the fuel burden. As they say, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts – we took a bird’s eye view; built-in value, improved forward planning and created the opportunity for a workwise operation. With so much planning and investment, this contract is a massive win for the North Star team.”
Halfdan Brustad, Vice President for Dogger Bank at Equinor, is one of many to welcome North Star’s success with this contract as a UK-based organisation:
“Despite tough international competition, it is a testament to North Star that they won these contracts. This is an ideal opportunity for the UK supplier to develop its skills, resources and network within the sector, laying the groundwork for a fruitful future while significantly supporting the offshore wind market in the UK. Dogger Bank is at the forefront of innovation, and being able to advance such a ground-breaking project with a local workforce simply adds to what we are all trying to achieve.”
As recently announced, North Star will be working with VARD – a global designer and shipbuilder of specialised vessels – to build its new fleet for Dogger Bank. Fraser Dobbie, Strategic Development Director of North Star, offers insight into how the winning vessel design was achieved:
“We didn’t want to take an off-the-shelf design from VARD. Our approach was to listen to exactly what the client wanted and with their support, designed a new, unique SOV solution. We believe that our commitment to adding this value made the difference. For example, we considered the logistical flow of how cargo is transported onto and off the vessel, into the warehouse and out to the turbines. The comfort for staff on board was also important to the client, so we embraced the concept of creating a comfortable second home for technicians, with features like an advanced gym area, as well as light and open spaces to encourage socialising and collaboration. This focus on wellbeing resonates with North Star’s values. In turn, our shared ethos for ensuring quality of life for offshore project staff drove innovation for this contract.
“With regards to the technical aspects of the ship, we have implemented the latest iteration of a specialist propulsion system that responds faster when holding position alongside the turbines transferring personnel, with less vessel sway and surge. This not only ensures a stable position but improves comfort while burning less fuel. We have also embraced digital innovations including decision support software which enables operators to best plan against the weather, monitor technology performance data and model the most efficient way to move between turbines at any given time.”
Although this is North Star’s first enterprise into renewable energy, it is likely just one of many yet to come. The company has already demonstrated how with innovation and a commitment to understanding the market, skills, infrastructure and services from the oil and gas sector can be very successfully adapted for renewables, as Fraser goes on to explain:
“Our company is built on 40 years of experience in oil and gas and ERRV [Emergency Response and Rescue Vessel] services. We are known for providing the 24/7 support, 365 days a year - that is required for ERRVs - and our track record speaks volumes about our reliability. Our goal now is to take this knowledge and apply it to new markets in order to answer different questions. We wish to share the lessons we have already learnt and work with the technology supply chain to drive and improve sustainability and differentiate ourselves from others in all the sectors we operate within.
“North Star is unique with its long history of managing ships and offshore operations. The company is in a robust financial position with extensive experience maintaining an impressive safety performance under different conditions, which is always highly valued by our clients. This is the reason why we have already started winning contracts in adjacent renewable markets to offshore wind. We have the expertise, infrastructure and capital to support several fields.”
The highly experienced marine operator will be building three brand-new SOVs to support Dogger Bank, adding to the 27 ships they have built since the early 2000s and adding to their total fleet of 44 operational vessels. With all services delivered in-house, North Star is further able to manage every aspect from project development to vessel maintenance for maximum quality, efficiency and consistency.
About their future plans in the field, Matthew comments:“Our ambition is to be a leading supplier of offshore wind infrastructure services. We aim to further develop our understanding of the energy transition and diversify our capabilities and support. A contract of this magnitude cements our position on the starting line, rubber stamps our operator status and gives us access to exciting new opportunities. In the long-term, we want to grow, using our winning formula to gain more contracts and continue on our journey. We still have a strong oil and gas core business, and this work for the Dogger Bank wind farm is just the start of new ventures for the longer-term company outlook.”
In addition to the vast opportunities that North Star and the wind farm partners will be bringing to offshore wind – and the 6 million homes Dogger Bank aims to power – the building and maintenance of three new SOVs will also create employment prospects, with 130 new full-time, UK-based jobs in the making. Indirectly, there are also positive implications for a boost in the supply chain for industry-wide growth. Given the current drive for economic recovery across the UK, this could all prove most timely for individuals and providers in the sector looking to transfer into renewables.
Steve Wilson, SSE renewables Project Director for Dogger Bank Wind Farm adds:
“The new jobs created by this contract in Scotland will play an important part in the UK’s green recovery and long-term economic stability. They will also provide an important opportunity to foster home-grown skills among the workforce and enable more individuals to get involved in the sector if they so choose.
“The state-of-the-art hybrid vessels being developed by North Star will have a critical role in ensuring the safe and efficient operation of Dogger Bank Wind Farm. This is the first step in the next phase of development for offshore wind in Scotland and the wider UK.”
With eyes from around the world on Dogger Bank, it is a project set to push the boundaries of what has previously been possible for offshore wind and, indeed, renewable energy. With several UK companies leading and managing developments, it is a clear demonstration of the innovation and success possible on our own shores.
About North Star
North Star Renewables is part of North Star Group, which also comprises North Star Shipping and Boston Putford. The Aberdeen-headquartered business is the largest offshore emergency support vessel operator in the North Sea, employs 1,400 personnel, and has been supporting the oil and gas sector for the past four decades. It’s offshore support vessel fleet boasts 44 vessels and provides continuous infrastructure support services across more than 50 North Sea installations. By combining safety, service and quality, the company delivers exceptional levels of support to its clients in one of world's most challenging and demanding industries.
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