Situated at the mouth of the Rhine and the Maas, with direct access to the North Sea, the Port of Rotterdam’s geographical position has always been favourable.
It saw the Dutch city become the world’s busiest port for much of the latter part of the 20th century. Today, Rotterdam still remains a major international maritime hub – with connections to 1,000 ports worldwide – and a gateway to Europe.
But like other world ports, Rotterdam’s remit is widening beyond freight and cargo into other activities, as evidenced by the announcement earlier this year that a new offshore wind centre will be built on its premises.
Covering a space of 70 hectares, the Offshore Center Maasvlakte 2 will help to power the decommissioning of oil and gas platforms in local waters, as well as providing services and facilities for the construction of offshore wind farms.
In the wind for some time, but no infrastructure
Rotterdam’s move into the wind sector is not surprising. The Port Authority has listed renewable energy as a key policy for some time now. The city is also home to Sif Group – a specialist in the production of wind turbine foundations – and last year a number of local businesses signed a manifesto to create the Rotterdam Offshore Wind Coalition.
According to Joost Eenhuizen, business manager for the maritime and offshore industry at the Port of Rotterdam Authority, seeking new market developments and opportunities “is in our DNA”.
Nonetheless, he admits that the port – “despite decommissioning and offshore wind being right in our backyard” – so far hasn’t had the infrastructure needed to house such projects.
“If you look at the market developments, and you reflect on the impact on our port, we have to conclude that in some way we are – or we were – not able yet to provide all the necessary infrastructure in line with them,” explains Eenhuizen.
“Taking the offshore wind market, there is a requirement for really big spaces – sometimes for temporary purposes. It requires heavy loads. We realised that we were not yet fully equipped to conquer these new markets.”
Hence the new centre. At the time of writing, the port authority has already reclaimed 30 hectares as part of the first phase of its construction. Next, a heavy-load deep-sea quay, initially 600 metres long, will be installed. This first part of the project alone will cost €70 million; the total undertaking will be in the region of €150m.
The spill-over effect: Connecting the centre to the Rotterdam’s business cluster
The new centre’s benefits will be varied, says Eenhuizen. First, it will provide a connection to Rotterdam’s existing cluster of offshore-related companies, as well as vocational institutes, such as the Delft University of Technology.
“By developing new activities in the region, we believe there will be a kind of spill-over effect into all the other companies already present in and around the port,” he says. “This includes the city centre, too, through the eastern side of the port.”
It could also have an impact on job creation, predicts Eenhuizen, who cites the example of Pioneering Spirit, the world’s largest construction vessel, which has a dedicated berth in Rotterdam – a stone’s throw from where the new centre will be located. Some €700m was pumped into the city’s construction and services industries thanks to the ship being completed and commissioned in the port in 2015/2016.
“There is definitely a comparison with this project,” says Eenhuizen. “By providing the right infrastructure and having companies settled over here, other companies in the entire regional cluster can benefit, too.”
Eyes open: The port’s approach to entering new markets
Given Rotterdam’s wealth of construction expertise, building the centre should be relatively straightforward. What might be trickier is the need for the port to focus on three different markets – offshore wind, decommissioning and oil and gas – all at the same time.
Marrying the port authority’s ethos of long-term investment with short-term projects will also need considering.
“In a way, these project-based markets are the opposite of how our business works,” admits Eenhuizen. “But we believe in combining these three markets, it will actually work in our favour, as you can cancel out any downtimes in the different markets.
“For instance, in the summertime, we are likely to see greater activity in offshore wind; whereas in winter, we’ll see more construction that can be loaded during the summertime.”
And what of decommissioning? The dismantling of rigs in the North Sea is proving to be a lucrative market, with industry players reportedly vying for multi-pound dollar contracts to take down platforms.
Eenhuizen is realistic. “The activities related to the port are mainly connected to development,” he says, “which is only a small portion of the entire value of the decommissioning value chain.”
The business of decommissioning is also still young, he rightly points out, and the Port of Rotterdam is yet to engage in any overtures with marine contractors. But, who’s to say that in a couple of years things might be different.
“We are keeping our eyes open,” says Eenhuizen. “One day, we will look to have talks with the contractors and oil majors, as well as dismantling operators.
“It might not be quite yet, but we are hopeful of companies like Allseas and Boskalis obtaining decommissioning contracts to remove these rigs. And they will look for the closest and most sophisticated locations to do this. The new offshore centre will present itself as a valuable option to these parties.”
As of 2019, Rotterdam might well be home to Europe’s first offshore centre for wind energy at sea. However, Eenhuizen is aware it might not be the last.
“For sure, a lot of ports share a similar view on these potential markets,” he says. “They will be making their investments in this area as well – so it’s up to the market, and market parties involved, to see which port will offer the best quality of infrastructure and services.”