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United Kingdom

Industry seeks government conviction

With offshore wind farm sites off the British coast currently up for grabs for up to 25 GW of potential capacity, the third round of site leasing was a recurring topic at last month's British Wind Energy Association annual conference. Eight sessions were dedicated to offshore wind, and offshore concerns also influenced most of the policy sessions. As with the conference as a whole (main story), greater clarity from government was the theme of the offshore discussions too.

From energy company Centrica, David Crowther complained about the "uncomfortable uncertainty" concerning the government's offshore targets. At the end of 2007, the government was looking for up to 33 GW from UK offshore wind by 2020, but in its recent renewable energy strategy consultation, it stated that by 2020 it expected just 14 GW from offshore wind, including around 8 GW from the first and second rounds of site leasing. This means the government expects as little as 5 GW from Round 3, commented Crowther.

From Siemens' offshore grid connections business, Matthew Knight said the company had bet its future on a steady stream of projects coming forward. "We are extremely worried by the conflicting signals; are we going to be building 5 GW, in which case we have no business and we need to start closing that team down now, or are we building 25 GW?" he asked.

Katherine McNeill from Britain's new Department of Energy and Climate Change said the whole reason for Round 3 was to provide a pipeline of projects to provide long term certainty on the scale of the future offshore wind market. This would help investors in both projects and the supply chain. "Let's be absolutely clear: we are looking at 25 GW by 2020," she reassured the conference.

The UK will need ten times the present rate of offshore build to meet its 2020 target, said Richard Court from renewables research and development centre NaREC in the north-east of England. This will require turbines to be installed at average rates of one per day by 2015 and ten per week by 2020, he pointed out. In that year alone, the UK will need to install 560 turbines each rated at 5 MW. Court wondered if the turbines and vessels would be available.

Wind turbines will not be the constraining factor, assured Uffe Vinther-Schou of manufacturer Vestas. "The offshore sector will get all the turbines we can sell." But the UK is facing aggressive competition from German plans and emerging offshore markets outside northern Europe, he warned. Some bottlenecks need to be addressed.

These include the lack of suitable ports; only a few in the UK can be used as assembly points for offshore wind projects. Many, moreover, are far more interested in other port uses than offshore wind. He pointed to the example of the 180 MW Robin Rigg project in the Solway Firth. With no suitable port facilities nearby, the installation vessels have to make the journey from Northern Ireland. "It goes without saying that the ten to 12 hour journey from Belfast to the Robin Rigg site has an impact on the project," said Vinther-Schou. The shortage of installation vessels is another critical issue, he added.

Nonetheless, Vinther-Schou is upbeat about the Round 3 program. The positives show that the framework for growth is in place. "At the same time, the industry must be realistic: UK political ambitions are high, while we continue to struggle with long lasting permitting and approval procedures and supply bottlenecks," he said.

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