Mikkel Nielsen hails wind power’s promise of big savings in a greener global economy

Mikkel Nielsen

The rapidly expanding offshore wind market is generating exciting possibilities of moderating the soaring cost of energy to businesses and consumers, says Mikkel Nielsen, a logistics expert based in London who has taken on a new role in this specialist area.

He is one of a trio of executives at the head of a new advisory service set up by Clarksons Platou, a leading provider of integrated shipping services.

Danish-born Mr Nielsen is a graduate of the Class of 2017 of the Executive MBA in Shipping & Logistics (the Blue MBA) at Copenhagen Business School, a two-year part-time course enhancing the skillsets of men and women in senior management. His integrated strategy project (thesis), appropriately drawing on his main interest field and entitled Jack-up Vessels and the US Offshore Wind Market, was highly rated by the moderators.

Clarksons marine advisory was established recently to support clients working in offshore wind shipping or considering entering this dynamic segment of renewables. Mr Nielsen is working alongside two other former offshore wind company executives: David Matthews from GE Renewables, and Gabriel Andersen from Ørsted.

Frederik C Andersen, head of offshore renewables at Clarksons, based in Oslo, and by coincidence a fellow Dane of Mr Nielsen, adds: “It’s great to see how Clarksons now takes its 50-year oil and gas offshore execution track record and combines it with the 20 years we have been in the frontline of offshore vessel chartering for some of the offshore windfarm pioneers. Packaging it all up under the new advisory service, this will be the go-to resource as we embark on the next phase of offshore wind: globalisation and true deep-water operation.”

Mr Nielsen is sure that offshore wind will make a positive contribution to energy economics, from two perspectives.

For the first of these, he draws on the studies he made of energy dependency politics when he was on the officer staff course at the Danish Naval Academy. The thesis had a focus on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline which is owned and operated by a company whose majority shareholder is the Russian state organisation Gazprom. “Things haven’t changed much since then and countries like Germany are very dependent on foreign energy sources,” Mr Nielsen observes today. “Having an independent energy source like offshore wind will keep energy prices at a lower level.”

Secondly, he adds: “Offshore wind has many advantages, one of which is scalability. We are now seeing significant offshore windfarms like Hornsea, East Anglia Hub and Dogger Bank, where volume is keeping costs down.”

During his previous management posts at Scottish Power Renewables, part of the Iberdrola group, and at the international sustainable energy developer Ørsted, he was lead on introducing the first US service operation vessel, first purpose-built such vessel in the Asia-Pacific region (for Taiwan), and responsible for operations and maintenance jack-up strategies.

Mr Nielsen had moved to the offshore wind sector in 2014 after serving as an officer in the Danish Navy. His first such post was head of operations strategic sourcing with Ørsted, where he worked until 2020 in logistics and vessel operations across Europe, the US and Asia-Pacific. He was project manager for the first DP2 hybrid service operating vessel for Ørsted’s German offshore wind farms.

At Clarksons, his responsibility is to grow the offshore advisory O&M (operation and maintenance) portfolio and develop a department responsible for commercial projects and contracts.

This remit comes at a time of rising costs of steel and other materials which has driven up the cost of wind turbines, and there could even be supply constraints amid geopolitical tensions. How can developers keep higher investment outlays under control?

“This is definitely a challenge,” says Mr Nielsen. “At Clarksons we see a significant increase of demand for vessels for the offshore wind industry – in some segments an undersupply within a few years. We are at the moment under pressure due to the increase in steel prices affecting the vessel building cost. This situation is the same for offshore fixed assets, such as substations, foundations, towers [installations in cylinders rising from the seabed] and turbines.”

Some critics worry about wind farms being sited in regions vulnerable to storms and rough winds, but Mr Nielsen is confident that the industry is confronting maintenance and safety issues. Mr Nielsen comments: “I have been working with projects across Europe, the US, and Asia-Pacific. There are many challenges, especially in the winter period. The industry does its best to reduce risks, for example by risk assessments, method statements and training. The technicians and vessel crews are professional, and we see very few incidents.

How do the benefits of offshore installations stack up versus onshore wind farms?

“In general, it’s a similar technology. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. For offshore wind:

–              It is possible to place installations out of immediate sight

–              Large volume can be assembled due to the size of the available area

–              Larger turbine capacity

–              There is more wind offshore.

Mr Nielsen says: “From our team’s perspective, the logistics is a key challenge for offshore wind. Vessels are needed in all parts of an offshore wind project. Among them are survey vessels, vessels to transport the components, jack-up vessels and cable vessel during the construction phase, service operating vessels and crew transfer vessels during the operations and maintenance phase.”

Vessels and procedures are constantly evolving, and to meet the needs, Clarksons marine advisory is offering development of engineering, procurement, construction and installation and operations and maintenance marine strategies for both fixed and floating wind schemes.

Overseen by Clarksons Renewables, the marine advisory team is applying its expertise with developers, vessel owners, energy companies, shipyards, designers, class authorities, investors, and financial institutions to support the industry with next-generation vessels: wind turbine installation vessels, construction support vessels, service operations vessels, floating foundation installation vessels and crew transfer vessels. The offer includes technical, operational and commercial due diligence for new vessel design, equipment concepts and offshore wind corporate business development. Services include vessel and logistics procurement planning, and tender management and execution.

Mr Nielsen and his colleagues can draw on commercial market intelligence and industry research in collaboration with Clarksons’ global broking teams and Clarksons Research.

In a report published in March 2022, Clarksons Renewables Intelligence Network said there was global potential for 14.5 gigawatts of power generated by 1,300 floating offshore wind turbines by 2030. This would be a huge expansion on current projects and capacity, and on the number under construction. The forecast envisaged 96 offshore wind farms by 2030. At the time, Clarksons noted that more than 150 potential offshore wind projects, producing over 100GW, had been proposed by developers in 21 countries or regions.

Clarksons Renewables has eight teams worldwide, based in Aarhus, Aberdeen, Hamburg, Houston, London, Oslo, Shanghai, and Singapore. These are further supported by in-house resources available in New York, Seoul, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo.

Separately, Oslo consultancy Menon Economics has forecast that, subject to clarification of certain legal and financial questions, floating offshore wind could create more than 50,000 new jobs and win a 5-14% share of the global floating market by the middle of the century.

Recalling his participation in the Blue MBA, Mr Nielsen described it as the leading executive education provider within shipping, adding: “I really enjoyed the course not only from an academic point of view, but also because I made many friends across the shipping and logistics industries. I use the Blue MBA ‘toolbox’ daily, from an operational level to a strategic level. Taking the MBA has definitely been a great help in developing my career opportunities – especially in this growing business of offshore wind.”

Earlier, in 2012, Mr Nielsen achieved the Copenhagen Business School graduate diploma in business administration (management accounting and process management). He also holds a BA degree in marine engineering and management from the Danish Royal Naval Academy.