Modular systems and floating islands
Population density in coastal areas is increasing due to the numerous employment opportunities related to waterborne activities. Many coastal areas are running out of space for cities and the expansion of industries and ports. At the same time, they are threatened by the consequences of climate change, notably rising sea levels. The development of mass tourism is placing additional pressure on the use of land space and the population growth in coastal areas is also increasing the need for sustainable sources of water, food and energy. In the traditional Oil & Gas industry, offshore workers stay offshore for a number of weeks, after which they return to land where they spend a period of time. As part of the mission related to living and working at sea, efforts to facilitate more permanent and longer stays offshore will be combined with rural and coastal expansion into the sea. This will include the workforce for offshore (renewable) energy production, storage and distribution of goods, carbon transformation, aquaculture and maritime leisure. It is expected that with an increased quality of life offshore, workers will stay offshore for longer periods of time and even take their families with them. Therefore, communities will gradually become established offshore, meaning that this expansion will require support facilities such as schools, shops and other facilities.
As offshore installations of this type are no longer a dream, the Waterborne sector is taking advantage of offshore coastal protection developments to provide a safe marine environment to artificial islands and is promoting the appropriate multi-use of space and multi-use offshore combinations, in keeping with the Marine Spatial Planning, Connecting Europe Facilities planning and Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan).
The waterborne sector will develop multi-purpose modular systems to support and protect offshore workers, to allow good living conditions at sea and to provide offshore recreational facilities by 2030. With multi-use offshore platform combinations, the waterborne sector’s ambition is to produce, in Europe, the first floating islands for large-scale industrial or recreational activities and inhabitation by 2050.
Working and living at sea will change over the next few decades, with increasing offshore activities following the main drivers discussed above. Traditional maritime working patterns of weeks offshore followed by weeks at home may not be feasible or desirable for the workforce of the future. Due consideration should be given to technological and business models for fostering maritime activities. Digital communication and remote relations are becoming more and more common, enabling offshore working and living, while at the same time opening new possibilities for people to live in a waterborne environment. The Waterborne sector will foster increased automation and robotics, supported by an adjustment of expertise and an increase in diversity in the workforce. The current workforce will be faced with a shift of employment requiring education and training. Cost-effective benefits will be achieved by integrating different systems on the same platform, e.g. multi-purpose offshore platforms might be designed to host marine renewable energy devices, aquaculture installations, monitoring systems, fresh water production, etc. However, design and manufacturing, as well as installation, operation, maintenance and decommissioning present several technological challenges to be overcome through the development and extensive use of efficient design and production paradigms for complex structures, as well as the development of innovative materials for modular structures and rapid prototyping. Finally, the concurrent development and integration of fully autonomous and smart ships and vessels, is essential to increase connectivity and ease maintenance controls. Both the working activities and the offshore territorial expansion require a durable, affordable and safe solution in creating space at sea. To achieve this, questions regarding classification, insurance, regulations and governance will need to be properly addressed.