Crane and Hoist Canada

Features
An optimistic outlook

Future looks bright for Canada’s wind energy sector.


September 6, 2019
By Andrew Snook
In addition to new installations, there will be significant opportunities for heavy lifting companies to take advantage of the maintenance of existing wind farms.

Heavy lifters in Canada’s wind energy sector are offering optimistic outlooks for the opportunities that lie ahead within the renewable energy sector.

Tyler Hannah, the America’s group manager for onshore wind at Mammoet Wind Equipment Services, sees tons of opportunities across the country for growth in the wind industry to positively impact the heavy lifting industry in all the provinces.

“The future is quite literally wide open. With wind energy trending toward larger wind farms, more complex and higher capacity turbines, higher hub heights, new and emerging technologies, this will all change the realm of what is possible,” he says. “Opportunities – if not the necessity – for innovations in equipment, methodology, scope and philosophy will challenge all of the players, which will drive industry to truly chase the horizon. As Canadians, we are incredibly fortunate to live on so much land, with so many resources, and a robust and diverse energy sector. The real challenge will be to choose what opportunities to prioritize.”

Hannah says no province is limited in any real sense from a growth perspective.

“Some provinces will be in an installation or construction phase, meaning that the others will see increase in port and transport – road, rail, waterway – opportunities,” he says. “We feel that if we look at Canada as a whole, all provinces are winning in some way, meaning great opportunity at a national level.”

In addition to new installations, there will be significant opportunities for heavy lifting companies to take advantage of the maintenance of existing wind farms.

“The fleet of wind farms and turbines in Canada is starting to get to the age where the maintenance requirements increase,” says Meredith Sargent, vicepresident of Surespan Wind Energy Services, based in North Vancouver, B.C. “So as far as ongoing work in Canada goes, we have over 5,000 megawatts of wind energy COVER in Canada right now, and some of that fleet is 10 to 15 years old, so that creates another avenue of work for us.”

Sargent says work refitting existing turbines or lifting the turbines off the top of towers and replacing them is a good way to help smooth out her company’s workload.

Many of the opportunities to work on larger installation and maintenance projects in the short-term are expected to come from within the Prairies.

“I think that we have a pretty optimistic view of the opportunities in Canada for the new installation and maintenance over the next few years,” Sargent says. “Most of us have had a bit of a lull for the last year-and-a-half in terms of installation work.”

Outside of a handful of smaller projects in Ontario, there has not been a ton of work for heavy lifters in the wind industry over the past 18 months, according to Sargent. But she says things in the industry are headed in the right direction, with enough work to keep companies like her own busy throughout the rest of the lifting season for 2019; and further growth is expected in the coming years.

“The next two years after this one is more of an uplift in installation work available,” she says. “There’s a number of projects coming up from Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2020 and 2021.”

Will Ontario be a major player?

As far as Ontario goes, the province is still a question mark for how active it will be in the installation of new wind industry projects in the coming years.

“We don’t know whether Ontario is going to revisit a very dramatic decision in 2018 to cancel a whole bunch of proposed projects now that the cost of wind as an electricity source is continuing to drop; and showing that trend is going to continue,” Sargent says. “With Ontario’s public mainly complaining about the high cost of electricity, it may be that Ontario takes a second look at things.”

A maturing workforce

One of the advantages the wind energy sector has now, that it didn’t have much of 10 years ago, is a veteran workforce.

“I think as the industry has matured, the workforce has matured. We have second-generation labour,” Sargent says, adding that 10 years ago, the labour in Canada’s wind energy sector was largely new to the industry. “The labour pool was building with people that were learning the trade of wind technician.”

She says colleges across Canada played a major role in the maturing of the sector’s workforce, picking up on the demand for skilled workers in the industry and creating courses to bring people into the industry.

“They’ve done a great job realizing it’s an industry that can attract people,” Sargent says. “What we’re seeing now in our own workforce is a maturing of that workforce. People with 10 years of experience under their belt and new entrants that are trained by people with significant experience… the labour, from our perspective, has improved.”

Unlike many companies active in the construction sector, Surespan isn’t struggling with skilled labour shortage issues.

“We have a loyal group of operators that are specialized in the wind industry – we have our own cranes,” Sargent says. “We originally recruited a specialist and he’s trained our own group of loyal operators.”

Major hurdles

One major hurdle for tackling any upcoming larger projects across Canada is access to the necessary cranes, according to Sargent, who adds that most of the larger cranes required for the work are already busy south of the border.

“On the equipment side, the challenge is definitely cranes. The U.S., at the moment, is sucking cranes from the market, because across the heavy lift industry there’s a lot of activity, including wind construction and maintenance,” she says. “So what we’re finding the most significant challenge for sourcing in a new construction project in Canada is finding the right crane because there are only so many of these cranes; and rental houses don’t necessarily want to rent them out for three months.”

Another challenge that will add to the crane shortage for some installation companies is that some wind energy installations will require larger cranes than ever before.

“The height for wind turbines has increased significantly,” Sargent says, adding that some installations are now upwards of 131-metres-tall.

For Mammoet’s Hannah, the biggest hurdles for Canada’s wind industry, as a whole, is the viewing of renewables as an energy pipeline.

“If there is heavy construction in the Prairies and central provinces, for example, ports on the coastal and inland provinces will reap some opportunity for the works outside of their province. Heavily taxing, permitting, and generally being overly opportunistic on any part of the supply chain and works raises the cost of renewable energy,” he explains, adding that this is something the industry cannot afford to do, since renewables must compete on the same stage as other energy generation sectors. “Essentially, we must not be our own enemy.”

Attitude shift

The biggest boon for the wind energy sector is that there is a shift in how people and companies view the renewable energy sector.

“The technology and capacity that the manufacturers are currently putting on the market are both a reaction to, and result of this,” Hannah says. “In our opinion, this makes renewables very holistic by definition: interconnected and aware of the interconnection. Any of the new projects and/ or projects in the pipeline with the 4.X megawatt machines are the biggest boon. Simply, they are bigger, heavier, higher, and once installed: better.”

So what can industry members do to help grow the industry over the next five years? Challenge each other, Hannah says.

“Due to the holistic nature of the sector, the supply chain should be equally holistic,” he says. “We should be challenging each other with innovation and sustainable business practices. Working with the owners and manufacturers to lower the cost of renewable energy to keep the project pipeline robust should be paramount.”