PORT HAWKESBURY: A wind energy project that will use floating turbines far offshore to generate energy is looking at the Strait area as the base of their operation.
Iván Barroeta, President of Brezo Energy Inc., told The Reporter that the Sea-Breeze Tech Floating Wind Demonstration Project has the potential to position Canada, Nova Scotia and the Strait area at the forefront of a growing industry. He said plans are to put the headquarters of the project in Port Hawkesbury, and have top management locate to the area.
“What we are offering to Nova Scotia is the establishment of a whole new industry but based in infrastructure and resources that are already here,” he stated. “We are spreading manufacturing through the Strait area.”
Brezo Energy started developing the technology in 2015 and started fully engaging in the offshore wind industry in 2016.
The project is offering an energy generation system that combines the best options for storage, Barroeta said, noting that includes liquid ammonia, hydrogen and batteries. He said they need to find “realistic” ways to do that.
“You can actually store energy either in a battery or in gases and liquids,” he explained. “We believe in our company that we need the three of them. There is no potential to go ahead massively with a solution that will reach society without the three.”
Barroeta said Cape Breton has among the “best winds in the world,” but the peak in capacity factor is only about 30-35 per cent. The further from shore, without obstacles, the better the wind, he said.
“Floating wind power, because of the physical conditions far from shore, it was proven up to 68 per cent capacity factor in the winter time and 50 per cent average through the whole year. That has happened four years in a row,” he explained. “That 15 per cent difference is a lot in terms of Megawatts actually generated. Investment in a new plant is way more convenient far from shore… When you translate that in money, it is a lot of money, enough to justify not using land onshore, or not using close to shore, but far from shore.”
To accommodate the mass production of floating offshore wind platforms, Barroeta said the company wants to establish a Canadian-led supply chain.
“Whoever owns the technology controls the supply chain. If we don’t own the technology, what’s going to happen is that energy developer is going to source or buy that technology from whoever in Europe or North America, provides them the technology,” he said. “What we offered to Nova Scotia is to actually relocate 100 per cent of our activities to Nova Scotia. Make the Strait area our home, and our headquarters. We are going to bring from Europe, only top management, because we need that experience, we need that expertise… But all the staff is going to be local.”
World-wide, Barroeta said the energy industry is seeking the establishment of production lines with the capacity to manufacture at a very high scale.
“We believe that here, the Canso Superport has the natural conditions, the infrastructure, and something extremely important, a supply chain with the potential to establish a whole new industry here,” he noted. “We have marine construction in Nova Scotia, some of them already operate in the Strait. We have metal fabricators with experience in the marine offshore industry because of previous energy projects in the area. And we found a very enthusiastic local government, in all of the region.”
Because they sub-contract everything they manufacture, Barroeta said they will be using local and provincial firms.
“We are bringing all of those contracts to local companies in Cape Breton and the Strait area, and Nova Scotia,” he noted.
This new industry is a great fit for this region because of its marine tradition, Barroeta said. Because much of their work takes place far from shore, they require onshore monitoring and marine infrastructure, he said. Using sensors, artificial intelligence and fully or semi-automated system, he said they can reduce the amount of trips to the wind farm.
“It’s going to require a new fleet of vessels,” he said. “We have the opportunity to design and build those vessels here in Cape Breton. We already established an agreement with two shipyards operating in Cape Breton, one is called East Coast Metal Fabrication in Sydney, and the other one is Samson Enterprises in Petit de Grat.”
Another opportunity from the project is in aquaculture, Barroeta said, noting that a recent Department of Fisheries and Oceans report notes that offshore farms are the only sustainable operations. He said they proposed a partnership with Premium Seafoods where the control room for the aquaculture operation would be located in Arichat. He said aquaculture requires not just water, but a lot of energy and he sees an opportunity for local employers.
“The platform has three cylinders, each cylinder is about 18 metres in depth, about 300,000 cubic metres of water,” he said. “We ran some calculations with Premium Seafoods and we confirmed that’s good for conducting a multi-year research and development program.”
Many companies around the world are working on offshore electrolysers, Barroeta said, and he is proposing that the units be tested in the region.
“My company thinks that’s an opportunity, in partnership with established manufacturers, to relocate operations to the Strait area, and then through the development of the floater for energy in aquaculture, at the same time, establish a project for offshore electrolysers,” he said, noting he has been in discussions with local businesses.
Most of the jobs generated by the project will be good-paying (no less than $70,000 per year) because of the specific knowledge, skills and experience required, Barroeta noted.
“We are using knowledge, which has been used for many generations by many families in this area,” he said. “Here we’re going to find pilots, and skippers, and crew vessels, and people who are familiar with the ocean. In that regard, we are not going to start from scratch.”
Owning the technology means Brezo owns the intellectual property, Barroeta said, which also means they are the procurement and construction company.
Barroeta said there is great potential to export to the Caribbean and the United States. The next round of leases off the eastern seaboard of the U.S. will be going further offshore, Barroeta noted.
“We decide which suppliers we are going to develop and train with our technology,” he stated. “We believe that if we establish the industry in the Strait of Canso area, we can actually export the platforms to New England.”
Barroeta said the project wants to achieve Nova Scotia’s sustainable goals for locally-owned technology. Once Nova Scotia realizes the potential from floating technology, suppliers get certified and the communities see the benefits, he said the province’s generating plants can be replaced with floating technology.
“This technology is not only wind, it’s also solar, it’s also hydrogen and ammonia,” he explained. “It involves, not only the generation of electricity, but it also involves other forms of energy. We know it’s doable and this is what we’ve proven to Halifax for the past year.”
Barroeta said floating wind farms are also used in areas with less biodiversity, and parts of the ocean that do not interfere with human activites, Barroeta noted.
“Shallow waters require fixed bottom foundations so you actually have to drill, open a hole in the seabed and put the foundation in the seabed. While floating, you only put anchors, in our case, three anchors per unit,” he noted. “If the wind turbines are deployed close to shore, obviously we are going to interfere with recreational boating and with fishermen.”
Another advantage, according to Barroeta, is that larger turbines (those from 12-20 MW) are more difficult to move onshore and feasible only in a port-to-port system.
“As the turbines grow bigger, it’s more and more complicated to put those turbines on top of a truck and move it onshore through our highways,” he said. “The whole industry is looking for construction at port. Everything happens onshore, and once the unit has been assembled, then it is pulled using a HDS vessel, just a regular anchor-handling vessel, which we have some of those here in the Strait of Canso area, there are a number of companies providing that service here.”
Brezo Energy has already started the training process with three companies, McNally Corporation, East Coast Metal Fabrication and Mulgrave Machine Works.
Another advantage, Barroeta said, is collaboration with other technologies like ammonia for fertilizer, hydrogen for oil refineries and oxygen for hospitals.
“We also have the ability to add solar panels, and then we have the ability to put in a desalinization plant, a compressor, an electrolyser and a small tank, to transform power in gases, like hydrogen, in liquids like ammonia, or other gases like oxygen, in order to diversify and expand the market for energy,” he said. “We have the ability to generate a whole new power but also other forms of energy which are used by industry.”
Barroeta said they also want to make floating wind power profitable for public and private investors, and affordable for consumers.
“We need a technology that generates electricity which is competitive with coal,” he said.
Barroeta said offshore wind has two main industries, the first is bottom-fixed offshore, including three types of foundations which are limited by the depth of the sea bed, and the second is floating which, he said, is the future.
“As the sea bed goes deeper, you cannot use one or the other,” he explained. “These foundation technologies have been designed for specific depths. They are kind of embedded in the soil. In my personal opinion, I find that quite invasive to the environment. The beauty of floating is that you can actually make the unit floating in deeper water, without being in contact with mammals, even birds.”
Barroeta said the technology can work 200-300 kilometres offshore, and because it’s floating technology, they have freedom to choose more sites.
“The ocean is quite big as you move, further and further offshore. Close to shore, let’s say 2-5 kilometres offshore and not more than 40-50 metres (deep), we have a lot of conflicts,” he said. “We will be competing with fishermen, recreational boats so that’s the not the case with floating technology. One of the many beauties of floating technology is that we actually have many, many, many times more potential sites that don’t have any conflicts.”
Brezo Energy is the project managers, and their consortium is made up of universities and industrial researchers, along with more than 25 organizations, Barroeta stated. Even before the project starts, he said Brezo Energy recommended the establishment of local committees, including financial, health and safety.
“I don’t want any of my neighbours hurt,” he stated. “I want a local committee made of wives, and moms, and people from the community. At home, they hear their relatives talking about what’s going on in the industry. They’re a great option for us to get better information sometimes than the manager running the show, or supervisor.”
Barroeta said the company has made great progress, with one component of their project at the seventh Technology Readiness Level (TRL), while the second is at level 9. He said each process is very complex and time consuming.
“Actually, it’s a technology that has been proven for decades in the marine construction industry,” he stated.
Level 7 is the level of their project they are proposing to the Government of Nova Scotia to conduct in Chedabucto Bay, Barroeta said, because that stage does not take place in the open ocean.
“Level 7 is a prototype ready for demonstration in an appropriate operational environment, by operational environment we mean not any more lap, or wave tank, or a model basin, but out in the ocean,” he noted. “The ocean has two big area, one is the ocean which is semi-protected, which is why we love Chedabucto Bay because the Strait of Canso area, all the way to Canso, is a semi-protected bay so waves, usually go no more than 10 metres high when we have big storm. In the open ocean, let’s say in the vicinity of Sable Island, waves can go as high as 16, 17, 18 metres, even 20.”
Level 7 entails “pure research” Barroeta said, and without the means to sell energy, they require co-investment of approximately $65 million to get to the next phase.
“A big portion of that money is our own money, and also private investors. What we are saying to Nova Scotia is let’s co-invest in TRL 7,” he said. “The financial information will be made public after the approval of the project.”
Because TRL 9 is “100 per cent commercial,” Barroeta said they have financing lined up. He said this is because they are able to generate energy from ammonia, hydrogen, oxygen, and methanol.
“We have already found international investors ready to come to Nova Scotia and they do business with Halifax… and they are offering $740 million and more, if Nova Scotia, in exchange gives them a Power Purchase Agreement,” he noted. “Meaning those fellas set up an offshore green farm, they sell the energy to Nova Scotia Power, companies in the States, 30 licensing companies.”
Barroeta said a permit was submitted to the Department of Lands and Forestry at the end of June, and the department is reviewing their application, but he does not know when that will be finished.
“They told me this is new for them, because they have never dealt before with an application to use the sea bed for a demonstration of a floating power generation unit,” he noted.
Barroeta said Canadian universities (Waterloo, New Brunswick, Alberta, Dalhousie, Moncton, and British Columbia) are part of their consortium, and will be conducting research on their platform.
Along with Canadian institutions, Barroeta said they have enlisted research partners from outside the country as well.
“It is absolutely impossible for one country to do this by themselves, we need collaboration,” he added.