Subsea cable failures could derail offshore wind ambitions

Failure of subsea cables is all too common says Global Underwater Hub (GUH), the trade body, which champions the UK’s £8 billion underwater industry.
Subsea cable failures could derail offshore wind ambitions
Cross section of subsea cable. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Failure to address failures in underwater cables could derail global offshore wind ambitions, with the reliability of cables being paramount to the success of offshore wind and the energy transition. However, failure of the cables is all too common, to the point that the cost of insuring them is becoming prohibitive.

Globally, over £620 billion of investment in offshore windfarms is anticipated by 2030 and, for the world to hit net-zero emissions by 2050, the generating capacity from offshore wind must increase by a staggering 1,120 GW. The subsea cable sector for offshore wind has been estimated at £100 billion over the next ten years.

“It’s estimated that around 85 percent of the total value of offshore wind insurance claims relate to subsea cables” said GUH chief executive, Neil Gordon. “Insurers are losing money underwriting cables with the average settlement claim in the region of £9million. Brokers have warned that the high number of cable claims is affecting capacity and coverage and the cost of repairs typically runs into millions, with warranties rarely covering the high cost of business interruption. If these critical components become uninsurable, offshore wind projects around the world will be derailed, making global 2050 net zero targets completely unachievable. This scale of expansion and opportunity can only be achieved by installing and maintaining thousands of miles of reliable cables under the seabed. There is an urgent need for a holistic approach to finding solutions which can be implemented as offshore wind increases in scale and technical capability with higher voltages and dynamic elements.”

GUH has established the Subsea Cables Forum to bring industry together to develop a roadmap for improving the quality, reliability, and therefore insurability, of cables which is crucial to achieving global offshore wind ambitions, particularly in the nascent floating offshore wind arena.

This will involve the development of a set of industry-led, recognised standards and best practice guidelines, encompassing the life of the cable that would be adopted by developers, suppliers, contractors, warranty surveyors and others and accepted by insurance bodies.

According to one developer, the cost of insuring a 1.2 GW offshore windfarm over its lifetime is in the region of £350 million and insurance brokers estimate that the costs of floating offshore wind will be 30 percent higher than fixed bottom ones.

“With the shift from fixed to floating offshore wind, where the dynamic nature of floating cables is even more challenging, the critical issue of their reliability must be addressed as a matter of urgency” added Mr Gordon. “It’s clear there are inherent issues affecting the performance and reliability of subsea cables that are within the industry’s control. Failures can stem from any stage in the cable lifecycle – from design to manufacture, handling and installation, through to operation and maintenance. Identifying potential weak points throughout the lifecycle of the cable is imperative to ensuring this offshore infrastructure operates robustly and efficiently to bring clean, green renewable energy ashore. We need better information sharing and a move away from a siloed approach, that is often ‘secrecy driven’ and ‘NDA heavy’. Introducing shared learning, data logging and increased transparency will create a more open environment for best practice to be developed.”

For additional information:

Global Underwater Hub (GUH)

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