Powering Submarine Cable Growth


Industry Dynamics



Submarine cable market activity is set to grow and make the North Sea—and other regions—an even busier place in which to operate in years to come.

Out to 2026, combined submarine cable market demand for Europe alone could amount to some 27,521 km (17,101 miles) of cable, according to Chris Anderson, CEO of market intelligence firm 4C Offshore. A little less than half of this would be driven by offshore interconnectors (the cables that transport electricity from one country to another), Anderson said during Subsea UK’s Subsea Cables Conference in Aberdeen on March 27.

Subsea cables, such as inter-array and export cables, are being used in the build-out of offshore wind. Since 4C Offshore set up nine years ago, offshore wind has grown sevenfold, said Anderson, with 17.4 GW fully commissioned, dominated by the U.K. Germany and China have replaced Denmark and Belgium in second and third place, behind the U.K. At the time, 9.5GW of wind was under construction, dominated by China, he said.

Looking forward, over a 10-year period, 4C has identified 57 GW of likely offshore construction. By 2023, Anderson expects 15 GW of offshore wind to be generating in the U.K.

Subsea electric cables are playing an increasing role in the provision of electricity to consumers in Europe and further afield. “In the U.K, 11% of electricity is now provided via submarine grid systems (according to figures from OFGEM). Nine years ago, they had barely registered,” Anderson said.

There is a significant number of planned, large-scale interconnector projects in North West Europe. Contracts have been awarded for a new connection between the U.K. and France, while a connection between Denmark and the U.K. is under consultation. There’s also the Celtic Interconnector project and many more. In total, by 2026, 4C Offshore estimates demand for 14,600 km (9,072 miles) of interconnector cable in Europe, totaling $32 billion in capex, of which 13,575 km (8,435 miles) will be high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cable.

Asia will also see demand, for some 6,800 km (4,225 miles) of cable by 2026, Anderson said, with demand also dominated by HVDC. There’s also a super-grid proposal in Asia, between South Korea, China, Russia and Japan, similar to one proposed in Europe. While the European project didn’t go ahead, it did spur activity, said Anderson, and a similar effect could be expected in Asia.

This activity has not gone unnoticed by traditionally more offshore oil and gas-oriented companies, such as Helix Canyon Offshore, which has work laying interconnector and inter-array cables as well as power cables for oil and gas companies.

Bringing In The Big Guns

Helix Canyon Offshore’s entry was spurred by the offshore wind market moving into deeper waters, bringing into play heavier offshore vessels, John Davies, director of seabed intervention at the company, said during the conference. Whereas in the 2000s, wind farms were in shallow waters and barge-type vessels were used, now the work is in deeper waters such as the Hornsea wind farm, 130 km (81 miles) offshore, where the likes of Canyon Offshore’s Grand Canyon has more to offer, he said.

Helix Canyon Offshore is also active in the interconnector market and will work on the North Sea Link, Blyth (U.K.) to Norway interconnector. At 905-km (562-mile)-long and to be laid over four years, Davies called the interconnector a significant piece of work. The firm is also trenching the 195-km (121-mile)-long HVDC power cable system from onshore Norway to Statoil’s Johan Sverdrup development in the Norwegian North Sea. The firm is also working on the Beatrice Offshore wind farm, off Scotland, trenching inter-array cables, under a contract to Siem Offshore (recently acquired by Subsea 7), Davies said.

Going into deeper waters also brings into play other cable lay options, such as J-lay and S-lay, said Peter Cherneski, business development manager and SURF and commercial/operations manager at Boskalis Subsea Solutions, which bought Dutch cable lay firm VBMS in 2016.

Boskalis is investing in its fleet to meet demand as monopiles and jackets get bigger and lifting operations get more onerous with larger turbines, Cherneski said. Indeed, offshore turbine size has increased from just 2-3MW, to 8-9MW today, and 15MW could be coming soon, Adam Ezzamel, project director for the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre, offshore Aberdeen, speaking at the University of Aberdeen’s The Future of Energy Conference 2018, held March 28.

“Tonnage is getting heavier, from monopiles to jackets,” Cherneski said. “Some of the lift assets in Europe are being exceeded. We are already building larger vessels for oil and gas, decommissioning and everything in between.”

While there are some policy uncertainties in some countries, combined, the submarine cable market and associated offshore wind installation markets look set to grow.