Alex Gauntt is Supply Chain Director for Floventis; a joint venture between Cierco and SBM Offshore.
Floventis currently operates in the UK and US markets and are responsible for the Llŷr Project – a proposed floating offshore wind development in the Celtic Sea, approximately 31km off the Pembrokeshire coast.
As a company Floventis are committed to maximising the local benefits of their projects. In September, they put their words into actions, announcing the backing of ORE Catapult’s Fit 4 Offshore Renewables (F4OR) programme.
In September Floventis announced a partnership with ORE Catapult and a commitment of up to £180,000 to deliver the first Fit 4 Offshore Renewables (F4OR) programme in Wales – specifically designed to support local companies bidding for work in the floating offshore wind industry.
Our Communications Coordinator Jess Hill caught up with Alex to hear more about the programme, what it means for Floventis, and what it will hopefully mean for Wales.
Q. What exactly is the Fit 4 Offshore Programme (F4OR) and how did it come about?
It was born out of the heavily regulated nuclear programme, Fit 4 Nuclear (F4N), and has been adapted to what offshore renewables requires.
About two years ago we started exploring the potential for having a Wales-specific F4OR programme. Up until now most of the programmes had either been funded by industry working groups or in support with government, and so Floventis are proud to be leading this and privately sponsoring a Fit 4 programme.
It’s a very exciting moment to be part of because, irrespective of who goes through the process, it is a long-term investment for those companies.
Q. Practically, what do businesses in Wales need to do to prepare themselves to be able to take advantage of the floating offshore wind opportunity?
When it comes to fabricating structures that will be going offshore, there’s an entire marine code and a range of specifications – what type of steel you use, which paint you use, how that device interacts with other devices. There is an interface management element in terms of how your component works within a broader system, and that’s quite complex and technology specific.
From a procedural perspective, health and safety reporting is on a different scale compared with onshore construction, so there will be a step change required in how you register, monitor and report your statistics in the offshore wind world.
There is a lot of complexity involved but we’re very lucky to have ORE Catapult and now the F4OR programme in Wales to help people find their way.
Q. What will the F4OR process look like in practice?
Interested suppliers who would like to be considered for the programme can register here or they can register via the ORE Catapult website. They’ll have to answer a proforma which will be assessed, and they’ll then have to complete a more in-depth questionnaire.
One of the key selection criteria is going to be a commitment from the supplier to actually provide the necessary resource; no money is required to take part in this, but certainly time and effort is going to be required and it is an audit, it is a full ‘open the doors and expose your laundry’, as it were.
It’s going to take some effort and commitment to go through the programme, but once it’s completed, those suppliers will receive a certificate verifying that they are ready to work in the offshore renewables market. That certificate will be recognised not just here in the UK, but also further afield, as a token of respect in terms of their capabilities. Of course, it will also put them in a very strong position to compete for both Celtic Sea and international opportunities.
Q. Are you hoping the programme can educate existing businesses who might not yet be aware of the potential opportunities FLOW could provide?
F4OR is an extremely exciting programme in terms of its ability to help connect local supply chain businesses with the opportunities that offshore wind presents.
It’s also a transitional opportunity for companies that have never worked in the industry before to help understand what training they require to be able to compete and win work.
Whether it’s marine renewables, floating wind, or fixed-bottom wind off North Wales for example, a lot of people and organisations don’t yet know that the opportunity exists, they don’t know that they can genuinely contribute high value-added components to this industry.
I often say that if you’ve built a stadium or a bridge, then there’s going to be elements that you can provide to the offshore renewables sector, it’s just trying to connect the dots and discover what shape that takes.
In the UK we have yet to build and deliver any floating wind, because all the operational floating wind has been built elsewhere and then brought in. Companies in other countries have been equipped, and are already fit to deliver offshore renewables services, supplies and goods, and so far, we have been unable to compete on a global scale.
Looking at the opportunities in front of us with the 400MW and the potential commercial leasing round thereafter, we’re creating a pathway for us to demonstrate that Welsh supply chain can deliver services right now.
I think we have a real responsibility to try and connect suppliers with the future labour pool in Wales and make it clear to them what’s in it for them. Hopefully the F4OR programme will help with that, and we will of course continue to support Welsh Government on any future initiatives as well.
Q. How important is the F4OR programme for Wales? Do we need more initiatives like this?
I hope it will be a call to arms for other developers to try and do something similar. We are extremely proud to be the first, but we would absolutely support future initiatives.
Even beyond supply chain, we need skilled people, and we need to plan for the future. When we deliver 4GW of floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea, we’re going to need tens of thousands of people to help design, build, maintain and operate these projects – people that don’t exist at the moment.
We need to be engaging with schools, and potential STEM students, to encourage them to move into this field, and I think it’s going to be a lot easier to do that if their mums and dads have been involved in the delivery of this generation of floating offshore wind.
We’re hoping F4OR will create a realisable path for future developers and give a certain sense of ownership and commitment from the local potential labour pool.
The deadline for interested parties to apply is Friday November 10th. Applications are encouraged from firms with more than ten employees and a turnover greater than £1 million. You can register your interest here.