Wind Power to Shipyard: Release the Kraken

When it's completed this spring, the Innovation will assemble offshore wind farms in northern Europe. Photograph courtesy of HGO InfraSea Solutions Close

When it's completed this spring, the Innovation will assemble offshore wind farms in... Read More

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When it's completed this spring, the Innovation will assemble offshore wind farms in northern Europe. Photograph courtesy of HGO InfraSea Solutions

Like arms of a steel kraken, cranes stretch skyward behind run-down brick warehouses in the Polish shipyard of Gdynia. This is where Hochtief AG, Germany's biggest builder, is spending 200 million euros ($268 million) erecting the world's most powerful ship that builds wind farms at sea.

The unfinished 147-meter-long beast, dubbed "Innovation," looks like an aircraft carrier sitting in dry dock. Instead of fighter jets, though, its deck will load windmills. Germany plans to install as much as 10,000 megawatts of sea-based turbines by the end of this decade, up from about 200 megawatts today, and Hochtief may build as many as many as three more ships to meet demand, said Ulrich Reinke, who heads the company's energy division.

Germany’s offshore wind targets “will result in investments of more than 30 billion euros over the next years," Reinke said. "Demand for ships to build and service offshore wind farms remains very high."

The Innovation is what's known in the industry as a jack-up vessel. Its four steel feet can elevate the ship above water depths up to 50 meters, protecting it from waves and current. Fully jacked up, the ship will reach a height of 200 meters from its feet to the tip of the extended crane -- about twice the height of the "Big Ben" Clock Tower of London's Westminster Palace. The crane, built by Germany's Liebherr-International Deutschland at a cost of 23 million euros, can lift 1,500 metric tons.

"It's the biggest and most modern ship of its kind," said Christian Bauer, who oversees construction for Hochtief, as he guided a tour of the vessel.

Bauer, wearing a white hard hat, climbed up a narrow steel ladder about 33 meters above ground to reach the top of the ship's main structure, which will house a cinema, a gym and cabins for about 100 sailors.

Innovation is the biggest project for the Gdynia shipyard, which once employed 15,000 people but gradually lost significance after the collapse of the Soviet Union and fell into insolvency in 2009. The shipyard is a few miles north of Gdansk, where Lech Walesa, a former dock worker, in 1980 led the shipyard strike that launched the Solidarity pro-democracy movement and helped bring down communism. Poland's Crist shipyard bought part of the Gdynia docks and secured the  contract for Innovation.

From the view atop the vessel, workers rush to and from the main deck amid flying sparks and the clamor of hammers. The ship, cut out of about 30,000 tons of steel, is to be finished by the end of May and will in the ensuing weeks begin installing the Global Tech 1 wind farm in the German North Sea.

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