Against the backdrop of climate change, wind, wave and solar power are being integrated onto the global electricity grid in ever-increasing volumes. This uptake of renewable energy – combined with deployment of ever-larger electricity generating units – brings with it complex logistical challenges: namely, the need to ship large and unwieldy pieces of equipment across oceans and continents.

Royal Smit’s transformers hit the high seas

For Royal Smit, delivering products to the customer on time is crucial. The manufacturer produces around 130 transformers every year, with increasingly higher voltages and capacities to serve the electricity grid. These giant transformers – weighing up to 350 tonnes – must be transported in one piece.

Royal Smit recently decided to use WW Ocean RoRo vessels to ship a total of five transformers from Zeebrugge in Belgium to the Port of Savannah, Georgia, and Port Hueneme, California.

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The first two transformers, weighing 128 tonnes each, were seven metres long, three metres wide and more than 4.5 metres high, and were destined for a final location on the Tennessee-Virginia border. The second batch was even bigger: weighing 185 tonnes each, the transformers were 10 metres in length, almost four metres in width and over five metres high. These were shipped to several locations in California.

A high and heavy load

“Finding space for these high and heavy loads can be challenging,” explains Bram Reintjes of Royal Smit. “When we assess transport options, we try to find the best fit in terms of time constraints and economics. WW Ocean was able to nominate a suitable vessel for our shipments within the right timeframe.”

At Zeebrugge, the transformers were placed on Samson and roll trailers, and rolled onto the vessels. RoRo vessel Faust was chosen for the Port Hueneme transformer shipment, and Parsifal for the units shipped to Savannah. With Parsifal's main deck height of more than seven metres and ramp capacity of 500 tonnes, and Faust's main deck height of 6.5 metres and ramp capacity of 240 tonnes, the vessels were perfectly suited to handle this type of heavy breakbulk cargo.

“The port of discharge in the US can be a deciding factor for the shipper,” Paul Van Heurck, Breakbulk & Liner Sales Benelux, WW Ocean adds. “Some ports in the US have better inland connections to the final destination or apply cheaper handling costs.”

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Once the transformers arrive at the destination port, a combination of rail and road transport is used to reach the final destination. “For what we call ‘the last mile’ of the journey, we make use of road transport, which often requires lots of adjustments such as the raising of power cables, the removal of street furniture, or even trimming trees,” explains Bram.

The pace of change in global energy is unprecedented, and requires a sophisticated supply chain. When it comes to delivering equipment for the growing grid, logistics companies must demonstrate an ability to keep up with the pace of change – in doing so, they’ll contribute to the delivery of next-generation energy, something integral to the planet’s future.