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Logistical challenges will arise as the renewable energy industry continues to grow

By Mihir Patel, Partner and Vice-President of Logisticus Group

We all know the renewable energy industry continues to grow. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), annual renewable capacity additions increased 45 percent in 2020. That's the highest year-on-year increase since 1999.

As growth continues, so will issues with logistics. With the continued development of wind and solar farms, many of the simpler project sites have been built upon, and future sites will be in more challenging locations, both from a terrain and permitting perspective.

In the past, many of the project sites have been a bit simpler to navigate. But, as the industry ramps up, obstacles in transportation will become a bit more difficult. How you navigate those challenges will determine how the industry responds to these obstacles.

There are several logistical challenges outlined below that could cause an issue for a project.

  1. The civil transport specification requirements
  2. Sequencing deliveries, with added permit requirements for larger components
  3. The growing size of blades and/or components, in addition to the quantity to fit on pads
  4. The idea of tracking components and/or visibility through technology is crucial
  5. Solid lines of communication with all parties involved

For wind farms, this means added workload to develop successful, repeatable delivery strategies.

With additional experience, many Department of Transportation officials are asking for more from their power producers to ensure public roads are being safely navigated and not impeding the average person's everyday life. That may mean developing traffic management plans that never before existed, which increases cost and can slow down deliveries. In addition, police and private escorts will add to the caravan of deliveries slowing down the supply chain.

Additionally, some turbine designs are more efficient on ridgelines or because there are less large, flat areas to develop. This means civil design and engineering will become a bigger consideration in the project planning process.

With trucks being limited on grades, project owners are often required to consider how they can balance creating navigable site roads while keeping budgets intact. Larger components mean larger transport configurations. Tip clearances for blades become a large challenge with increasing grades and tight turns.

As the components grow larger, there is often less room on the turbine pad, requiring sequencing of turbine components, which depending on origin locations can be a challenging logistics exercise. GPS tracking can be a valuable tool here. Being able to use technology to help track components can be crucial to a project's success. This can ultimately help limit logistical challenges.

Lastly, there are many parties involved in a wind project build and ensuring lines of communication are open is very important. Clear and aligned communication is of paramount importance to ensure the collective group is successful. Limiting delays and keeping all parties working collaboratively can be the difference in making or breaking a project. Pre-Planning with district Department of Transportation officials and State Permitting offices is the real key in being successful for deliveries.

While wind is a big component of renewable energy, I would be remiss not to address solar logistical issues, as well. The first being large quantities of containers arriving during one condensed period of time. It is critical that there is enough time to unload, unstuff and be able to inventory the components efficiently. If that does not or cannot happen, then the project could be unsuccessful. If the project manager gets through the install and determines parts are missing or damaged, the potential for delays and added costs are increasingly likely.

Additionally, the current logistics market has driven up both ocean and road costs, which spill into the project's overall budget, putting further pressure on maintaining tight budgets and avoiding any cost overruns.

These are just a few of the more important logistical challenges that could arise during a project cycle. If the industry continues to grow at this rapid pace, these issues will need to be addressed sooner rather than later. It will be crucial to begin to make changes so that the logistical issues don't hinder a project's success.