Lessons From the Seafloor: How Knowledge From the Telecom Industry Is Informing Offshore Wind Development

Emma Martin describes how past knowledge from the telecom industry has helped shape the growing offshore wind market.By Emma Martin
September 21, 2020

Subsea telecom cables have been vital to supporting global connectivity since the first was installed in the 1850s. Over 150 years later, the global network now consists of more than 300 planned or in service cable systems, connecting all six inhabited continents and many places in between. With so many decades of experience, the industry has seen a steady stream of innovations, particularly in the fields of knowledge generation and monitoring systems. SMART (Science Monitoring and Reliable Telecommunications) cables are poised to gather data on environmental parameters, shifting weather patterns, and even seismic activity and resultant tsunami risks. In addition to these modern data troves, the past century and a half of cable projects have yielded knowledge on seafloor mapping and modelling, environmental variables, and ecological shifts.  Alongside this wealth of information, existing coastal and maritime infrastructure capabilities have also developed, increasing the speed and efficiency of manufacturing and services both on land and at sea. It is our hope that the lessons and skills learned in the subsea telecom and power industries can aid the efficient growth of offshore wind.

Offshore wind is exhibiting a global boom, and some areas, including the East Coast US, are poised for massive growth within the decade. The US Department of Energy 2018 Offshore Wind Market Report suggests that US offshore wind capacity could grow to 11-16 gigawatts by 2030. Similarly, the U.S. Offshore Wind Power Economic Impact Assessment created by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) stated that the United States can expect to host up to 83,000 jobs and $25 billion USD Annual Economic Output from the offshore wind industry— all within the next decade. New developments by nature must include additional subsea cables (array and export power cables) while also growing concurrently with the global telecom network. “In developing offshore wind it is critical that early dialogue with stakeholders happens at both the industry, and project, levels. Cables, both power and telecoms, are a key topic and that dialogue will shape how the sectors can co-exist,” said Alastair Dutton, Chair of the Global Offshore Wind Task Force at the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).

To continue reading the rest of this article, please read it in Issue 114 of the SubTel Forum Magazine on page 32 or on our archive site here.