Investors views shift from nuclear to wind

JAPAN: Offshore wind is the beneficiary of a waning in investor confidence in nuclear power following the crisis in Japan, according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

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Before the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that crippled the nuclear plant, the survey found that financial institutions viewed nuclear investment favourably, with only one in ten international investors seeing offshore wind as more attractive.

However, in a follow-up question six weeks after the March earthquake, three-quarters of the same respondents said their investor sentiment had shifted positively towards offshore wind power.

The survey suggests that offshore wind risk perceptions seem to be improving, and not just because of the Japanese crisis. Nearly two-thirds of the European financial institutions surveyed said offshore wind power investment risk has reduced in the past two years. Only a small percentage thought the risks had increased.

Questions remain

The prospects for offshore wind look bright, according to many of the government respondents in the survey. Three quarters are reasonably confident that it will play an enduring part in the energy mix in the next 20 years and three fifths expect it to be economic without subsidies within 15 years.

But the biggest challenge facing offshore wind power is to bring costs to a range where it can compete in the energy mix with little or no subsidy. The outlook among contractors and operators in the sector is mixed.

"The jury is still out on just how far offshore wind power can move down the cost curve," says Ronan O'Regan, director of PwC Renewables. "It is possible to envisage design and technological innovation reducing some aspects of cost significantly, including scale economies in turbine size.

"But unlike the dramatic reductions in small component electronics, much of the cost of offshore wind power comes from heavy engineering, steel and other raw materials inputs," he adds. The cost of these remains volatile.

PwC surveyed developers and operators of offshore wind farms, utilities, contractors and manufacturers, government bodies and financial institutions in 12 countries.

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