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Offshore holds key to EU targets and jobs boom

WORLDWIDE: Just as onshore wind power settles into maturity, after several years of sustained growth that saw its transition from a niche sector to a mighty player on the global energy scene, its daughter industry, offshore wind, is pushing through with vigour. Only a few years ago offshore wind was more of a pipedream than a realistic proposition. Today, it has earned a place as a burgeoning industrial sector that promises to grow at a rate at least equal to the vertiginous rise enjoyed by onshore wind power over the past two decades.

By offering a panoramic view of the global state of play for offshore wind, this Windpower Monthly report gives an insightful snapshot of the key current issues - what drives offshore wind development and what risks holding it back.

Northern Europe is the cradle of offshore wind power and looks likely to remain its stronghold for years to come. Alongside Denmark, which has developed a solid industrial base from long-standing political support for wind power, Germany and the UK are set to develop a large number of major projects and achieve ambitious energy-generation targets by 2020, as mandated by the EU.

Despite being first to include offshore wind power in its energy policy, the pace of progress in Germany has been glacial. Plans drafted ten years ago envisaged up to 3GW of offshore wind by end-2010, but a mere 400MW looks to be the most that can be achieved by the end of this year. The 2020 target of 10GW appears a distant prospect in the light of the environmental and financial constraints that offshore wind is experiencing. However, the nuclear phase-out rushed through in the wake of the Fukushima disaster last year might prove a strong ally of offshore wind. Not only is there a large energy demand gap to fill, but there are also a handful of energy majors looking for new opportunities.

In the UK, the latest round of a project allocation process that began in 2000 - Round 3 - promises to add 32.2GW of capacity. As well as enabling the country to meet its 2020 target of 17% of energy from renewable sources, this level of development would also boost an industrial segment worth thousands of new jobs, especially in areas of the country traditionally affected by high unemployment, such as Scotland and north-east England.

The biggest question marks in the UK involve finance and technology. There is significant pressure on the industry to lower the cost of energy and the government has set up a task force to reduce current cost levels of £150/MWh (EUR185/MWh) for offshore wind to £100/MWh. This should make the industry more attractive to investors.

Then there is the issue of building turbines reliable and robust enough to withstand the harsh marine environment. With larger wind farms being located in deeper waters and further out to sea, maintenance visits must be kept to a minimum if costs are to be controlled.

France, meanwhile, is keen to shake off its image as northern Europe's least active offshore player. The country has recently woken up to the potential industrial benefits of its vast offshore resource. A recent tender for 3GW of capacity had four winning bids, and French companies including Alstom and Areva have pledged to build manufacturing facilities on the back of these projects.

Elsewhere, North America seems to be finally on the move, with the Cape Wind project off the eastern US coast. The attraction of generating large amounts of clean electricity relatively close to large cities should be strong enough to overcome the obstacles offshore wind has encountered so far.

In the light of the astounding recent growth of onshore wind power in China, it would be foolish to brush off Beijing's ambitious offshore goals as unattainable. High costs and environmental concerns have prevented large-scale development so far, but ultimately China's thirst for energy, the proximity of major cities to the coastline and the promise of yet another chance to develop a strong industrial sector are certain to support the ascent of Chinese offshore wind.

Dedicated new offshore service

Anybody attending wind industry events over the past two years can testify that the buzz around offshore has grown louder by the day. Windpower Monthly has, as always, moved with the industry and devoted increasing attention to this sector. Offshore wind power has now grown to the extent that we feel it needs its own dedicated news and intelligence service. For this reason we are proud to announce the launch of Windpower Offshore, a publication offering online news and business intelligence that will uphold our traditional values of quality reporting, independent analysis and expert commentary. It will deliver the type of data and analysis on the project pipeline that Windpower Intelligence provides, but tailor its contents specifically to the demands of the offshore audience. We rely on the industry's support and input to make this happen.

Nadia Weekes is editor of Windpower Offshore

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