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Aerial view of offshore wind farm

Floating offshore wind – a national prize or a lost opportunity?

Mark Spring discusses the key points from the latest SSE report, exploring the UK's opportunities and why floating wind is key to meeting the Government's target of delivering 40GW of offshore wind by 2030.

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The UK has a target to meet 40GW of offshore wind by 2030. It’s a great target and one that’s been welcomed by the industry. But, under current policies, we and others feel it’s not realistic.

Not only that, if action isn’t taken now the UK could easily lose the global leadership position it’s gained in offshore wind. It could also miss a significant export opportunity in the form of floating offshore wind.

Much of our thinking is reflected in SSE Renewables’ policy road map for offshore wind, published last week. It’s a great start. It sets out nine actions SSE Renewables says are needed for the UK to meet its 2030 target.

These span: improving the consenting process; introducing a strategic-level of marine spatial planning; more staff in the departments that deal with these areas; electricity market reform, improving diversity of UK supply and unburdening developers from distribution costs; a strategic approach to the transmission system – including working with our North Sea neighbours; cross-government department co-operation to improve consistency, for example to mitigate aviation radar constraints; more regular and increased seabed leasing volumes; and strategic investment to support the UK supply chain.

These actions, together with up-front investments, from industry and government, in transmission systems have the potential to create something much bigger - a meshed North Sea offshore grid. An integrated offshore high-voltage DC grid would really make an impact, reducing uncertainties and costs for developers and delivering energy where it’s needed from where it’s being created.

All of these actions would also support floating offshore wind, which could also supply into that mesh. But SSE Renewables goes a step further here. One of its nine actions specifically calls for a fully developed strategy and accompanying policies in support of floating offshore wind “as soon as possible.” Why? Industrialisation of floating wind, towards maturity and cost-parity, just would not be possible whilst there is direct competition between fixed bottom and floating wind technologies in the near term. And yet, floating wind offers some real benefits. Only with floating wind will the 40GW target be met, enabling development of deeper waters to the west of the country.

At Lloyd’s Register, we’ve been involved in the development of offshore wind for decades. We were involved in the very first floating offshore wind pilot, installed by what was then Statoil in 2009, which is still operating today.

We think floating offshore wind offers the ability for large capacity expansion near to demand centres. Through the development of new wind farms in areas with high wind resources and away from current capacity centres in the southeast of England, intermittency issues would be reduced. These new areas could include northwest Scotland, the Irish Sea, Cornwall and Wales. It would also promote investment in port infrastructure and provide new local jobs and industry.

While there are now multi-turbine projects, it’s still a nascent industry, which means leadership in this space is for the taking. While it’s not going to play a major role in meeting the 2030 target, it will contribute and, as SSE Renewables’ points out, it will play a much more important role out to 2050 and beyond.

The question is, does the government want UK companies to be competitive in this space on a global stage, or does it want to let others, like Norway, France, Portugal, Spain and the US take the prize? Does the UK aspire to be prominent amongst these top five countries, providing a birthplace and nurturing start for designers, fabricators and other players in the supply-chain?

If it does, we think SSE Renewables’ nine actions would go some way to putting us in a pole position. But we also think there are other measures that could be taken, such as a distinct administrative strike price for floating wind. That includes a strike price for projects comprising of floating platforms integrated within wind farms that are currently anticipated to be solely built using fixed bottom foundations.

We’ve also recommended additional measures to be introduced into the 2021 auction, to enable strike prices to be paid over longer periods for the first, lower-TRL floating wind schemes, designing in “life extension” from the outset. And we think annual auctions and a proposal to extend the delivery window for projects should be supported, giving developers more breathing space and reducing the peaks and troughs in workload for the supply chain.

It’s early days. But with the offshore renewable energy research and development capability we have in the UK, as well as expertise developed in floating structures over decades in the oil and gas industry, we have the means to grab this opportunity.
Floating offshore wind opens up vast new areas of resource, helping to reach our 2030 targets and reduce intermittency. Get it right and the 2030 target will be more realistic. Not only that, we could go some way to reducing intermittency, fostering a sizeable new industry and export opportunities within our grasp.

Link to SSE Renewables' report: https://sse.com/media/669511/Delivering-40GW-of-offshore-wind-by-2030.pdf

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