Equity funds key to next offshore round

WORLDWIDE: The entrance of pension and insurance funds has confirmed offshore wind's move from balance-sheet utility financing to a new phase of consortium-based investment, according to a report on the sector published by management consultants PWC. The report says the recent $1.3 billion investment by Danish pension insurance groups in offshore wind in Denmark confirms the trend towards a maturing market and the creation of secondary markets, with assets sold for a second or third time.

PWC also predicts consolidation among larger players will occur in the offshore wind sector. Ronan O'Regan, director of renewables and cleantech at PWC said: "As offshore wind projects increase in size, the need for a strong balance sheet to support the technology becomes more important. This creates scope this year for a landmark wind-power combination between players from one or more of Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America."

What could stop this happening, though, is continued uncertainty over the eurozone crisis. Paul Nilleson of PWC renewables said that a deeper crisis would dampen appetite for consolidation, "but market uncertainty might not block the big deals".

Commenting on the PWC report, Farook Khan, partner at international law firm Pinsent Masons, agreed that equity and sovereign wealth funds were evidence of the changing face of offshore wind investment. "The sheer demand for capital as offshore wind in Europe moves to the next level means funding is constrained and it is going to have to come from new equity sponsors," he said.

He added that the supply chain may also come in and supply equity, with turbine manufacturers joining "special purpose vehicle" project consortia.

"Developers will have to accept a lower rate of return, and look further afield for investors," he said.

Pinsent Masons partner Paul McQuillan added that the challenge remained to convince equity investors to take on construction risk, the riskiest phase of an offshore wind farm development, and a phase that has traditionally been carried by developers and utilities alone.