Dutch maritime sector: from lag to lead

Roel de Graaf, Managing Director at Netherlands Maritime Technology

Partly due to the size of the installations, the installation and maintenance of offshore wind requires different methods and equipment maintenance than regular offshore. The Dutch maritime sector smartly responds to these needs, says Roel de Graaf, Managing Director at Netherlands Maritime Technology. “The current advantage can be expanded over the next few years.”

“The Dutch maritime sector has recently specialized in installation and maintenance of offshore wind,” says De Graaf, whose organization represents a network of Dutch shipyards, maritime suppliers and service providers. It is a transition that takes more effort than one might initially think. “Previously, offshore wind was done with regular ships from the offshore gas and oil industry, but it requires a completely different type of vessels, which can handle much larger and heavier components. For example, the foundation of a windmill is extremely heavy, and it must be retained, lifted up and turned, which requires new crane constructions, among other things.”

Specialists

In recent years, many investment have been made in new ships and applications. The challenge seems to be that a variety of tasks must be carried out with one ship. “In addition to the heavy work, the propeller blades and other sensitive parts, for example, must also be transported and placed.

This requires a delicate technology that needs to be handled and placed with precision. Many ships that have a lot of very specialized technology on board are needed for this operation. To give an idea, there are ships that can lift themselves out of the water.” A large number of companies throughout the Netherlands develop these kinds of technologies, which makes cooperation possible while ensuring healthy competition at the same time, De Graaf states.

Challenge the maker industry

Reducing costs throughout the sector, ensuring that wind farms are more profitable, also is an important aim of and incentive for the developments in the maritime sector. De Graaf: “The fact that parks can now be built without subsidies is to a large extent because of the steps that have been taken in the maritime sector. I especially notice the creativity in solutions.” According to him, the corporate culture in the Netherlands is conducive to that creativity.

Dutch companies usually work together more easily than companies in other countries

“Dutch companies usually work together more easily than companies in other countries. This, for example, makes it possible that a shipping company is not necessarily in the lead, but that suppliers also play an important role. This opens up room for creativity, which is essential for innovation.” Moreover, the big ship owners constantly challenge the manufacturing industry to think along, he adds. This way, joint progress is made, with potential on a global scale, given the growing international interest in large-scale wind farms. “The interaction between customer and client is the key to the success.”

From lag to lead

Continuous innovation is needed to be able to benefit from the advanced position the Dutch offshore wind sector currently has, says De Graaf. “The Germans and Danes are especially good at developing the windmills themselves – we, as a country, lag behind there. With regard to installation and maintenance, however, we have made a head start in recent years.” Competition in this area, however, is on the rise. In Norway, for example, there is an increase in demand for installation and maintenance of wind farms, says De Graaf. “But the Netherlands has all the ingredients needed to expand its success in the coming years.”