Task force calls for state intervention

UNITED KINGDOM: There is a strong case for public sector intervention in offshore wind to resolve market failures, according to the group tasked by the UK government to reduce the cost of the technology.

Minutes released from recent meetings of the Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Task Force confirm innovation is seen as critical to reducing costs in the UK's offshore sector to £100/MWh. But the group, comprising 30 agencies, companies and government departments, said: "There is also a clear case for UK public sector intervention, as there are ongoing market failures, such as demand uncertainty, a lack of facilities and other infrastructure, insufficient co-ordination and sharing of data."

The task force identifies a number of innovation areas that are likely to have the biggest cost benefit to UK offshore wind. These include test sites and component testing facilities to support development of high yield and high reliability turbines, innovative turbine designs, and foundations for depths of greater than 30 metres.

The group highlights the lack of opportunities to test new technology offshore. It said demonstration units need two years of testing, but with developers for the next UK Round 3 of offshore development projects ready to make purchasing choices in 2014, demonstration units need to be in the water this year.

Task force member Phil De Villiers from the Carbon Trust has suggested several actions to address this issue. One is to de-risk national test centres by accelerating planning for new sites and increasing industry investment. Another is to encourage international collaboration, mostly within the EU, to test equipment overseas. The task force believes technology innovation has the potential to reduce costs by 20% by 2020.

Cuts of 10%

The task force is now turning its attention to financing. It has noted that onshore wind has been built using innovative project financing, and is now exploring what the barriers might be to doing the same with offshore wind. There are some current European offshore wind projects using new turbines that have attracted non-recourse financing, proving this must be possible.

The group has also been examining opportunities for cost reduction through the RenewableUK offshore grid group. Chris Jones from the grid group has suggested grid costs for offshore are likely to go up in the short term, but the group is confident costs will then come down by around 10%.

One example of technological innovation aimed at reducing costs was unveiled by Dutch renewable-energy company 2-B Energy and Scottish Enterprise last month. With claimed cost savings over conventional turbines of 45%, the 2-B concept is a two-bladed offshore turbine that significantly reduces the number of components required throughout the lifetime of the turbine, so lowering operation and maintenance costs. The 6MW turbine would sit on top of a full lattice structure going all the way down to the seabed.

The Scottish European Green Energy Centre based in Aberdeen is supporting 2-B Energy's application for funding through the EU FP7 research programme, with a view to the two-bladed turbine being tested offshore at Scottish Enterprise's Fife Energy Park in Methil.