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QotW: Is the UK a true leader in offshore wind?

This week Windpower Monthly questions RenewableUK director for offshore renewables, Nick Medic, Siemens Energy UK director of strategy and government affairs, Matthew Knight, and Make Consulting managing consultant, Jean Huby, former CEO of Areva Wind.

The Gwynt y Mor project is one of the world's biggest offshore projects
The Gwynt y Mor project is one of the world's biggest offshore projects

Despite having the largest installed capacity offshore anywhere in the world, can the UK be classed as the leader in offshore wind, when there are no leading turbine manufacturers and many services are brought in from overseas?

Question: Is the UK really the leader in offshore wind?

Jean Huby - managing consultant, Make Consulting

With close to 50% of the world-wide installed base, the UK has been by far the largest offshore wind market in the world to date. It is likely to stay in the top 2 with recent regulatory moves accompanying the Electricity Market Reform, such as the extension of the ROC and the FIDE mechanism, which provide a comparatively robust regulatory environment.

On the supply side, it is now becoming clear to all market participants that local UK content is a must-have and following Siemens' decision to build a significant industrial hub in Hull, we expect most suppliers to follow suit.

So the UK has a clear leadership in offshore wind, but this remains to a large extent the mirror image of the rather slow uptake of offshore wind elsewhere. It would probably be good news for the UK if it were to share more and more of its leadership and benefit from a more global market and supply chain.

For this to happen, cost must decrease, best practice must be shared and the market must become truly global, in particular with the development of floating technologies that make deeper waters – and often higher winds - accessible. Supporting this should be a priority for the UK. Otherwise its pioneering endeavors may well end up in a Pyrrhic victory.

Matthew Knight - director of strategy and government affairs, Siemens Energy UK

First, offshore wind is not a contest. We are pioneering a new industry on a massive scale in a harsh environment. That demands collaboration. Success for our industry is to safely and reliably deliver Europe with electricity at a competitive cost.

The best ideas need to win, wherever they come from. The UK started late but has some real advantages. Our islands are surrounded by shallow seas in the windy corner of Europe. We have established expertise in offshore engineering and finance and a strong maritime tradition.

Importantly the UK has scale. This is the first place that had to take offshore wind beyond a series of one off projects and begin to create a mature industry. Rounds 1 and 2 helped the UK learn the basics. Round 3 was the catalyst to start thinking big. It has allowed us to develop concepts for working far from shore and on a scale that didn't apply 4 years ago. Anywhere.

Recently we've seen the industry at its best, coming together to create the Norstec Academy. Amazing young people, from the UK and beyond, have been inspired by our industry. Softening the hearts of politicians towards offshore wind. That's real leadership.

Nick Medic - director of offshore renewables, RenewableUK

The answer to your question is yes. Regardless of whichever measure you use to judge leadership by, UK comes out on top. For instance, we have 1,075 offshore wind turbines installed, and another 377 under construction, now supplying close to 5% of UK's electricity. Effectively, over the last 5 years we have been installing 1 offshore turbine in UK waters every 48 hours.

Cumulatively, it adds up to an installed capacity of offshore wind projects which is as large as the rest of the world put together. It's great to see that Siemens have committed to opening major manufacturing facilities in Hull, proving that the UK can reap the massive industrial benefits of offshore wind, creating a significant number of new jobs.

However, I feel that some important questions are facing the offshore wind sector right now: will the UK retain its current advantage and will it will be able to capitalise on being the market leader? The key to both is consistent support post 2020 from Government.

Specifically, this includes enabling actions in areas such as consenting projects and developing the supply chain, as well as ambitious deployment volumes and a realistic level of financial support with Contracts for Difference. With these conditions in place, the UK should continue to be the global offshore wind leader in the 2020s just as much as it is today.

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