Hull prepares as Siemens decision looms

High stakes for UK offshore wind as plan remains uncertain

Efforts to convince the biggest name in offshore wind turbine manufacturing, Siemens, to establish a UK production facility in north-east England have been intensifying. Tenants have been relocated from a 56ha area within the port of Hull, where Siemens could be based.

All but one former tenant of Alexandra Dock has been moved by the site owner, Associated British Ports (ABP), in anticipation of Siemens' early-2013 final decision on its Hull plans. The remaining tenant, a vessel repair firm called MMS, remains on site, as its services fit the needs of the offshore wind sector.

ABP has committed to a £200m redevelopment of Alexandra Dock and associated infrastructure, if Siemens does decide to locate there. The plans call for the filling in of about half of the existing dock, creating a much larger storage area, and the construction of a new river berth. Siemens would then invest about £80m in its facility.

With hopes high in Hull, ABP’s commercial manager at the port, Phil Coombes, cautioned against assuming that the plan was already agreed. "It’s not a done deal," he told Windpower Offshore.

Meanwhile, Siemens’ positive reaction to the UK’s recently-published energy bill has encouraged some to think that the company will soon announce its intention to establish a Hull base. "I think it will go ahead," says Hull-based commentator and consultant, John Meehan.  

Confusion about proposal

UK press reports have frequently referred to the Siemens proposal for Hull as one that would see the manufacture of offshore wind turbines there. But the plans are far more limited than that, focusing simply on the production of nacelles, which house turbine generators, and the pre-assembly of its new 6MW turbine. The port would also serve as a storage area for turbine components, prior to their transportation to offshore sites.

If Siemens’ Hull plan does go ahead, components such as generators, blades and towers would probably be built at the manufacturers' other locations, such as Brande and Aalborg in Denmark, and/or by its suppliers.

Some of Siemens’ component suppliers may be UK firms, which could choose to locate in or near Hull. But suppliers with production facilities in countries with established offshore wind manufacturing bases, such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands - and, in future, France and Poland - are also expected to feature in Siemens’ 6MW offshore turbine supply chain.

GDP growth

The Hull proposal illustrates the challenge facing the UK’s offshore wind industry, which is increasingly expected to create jobs and contribute to economic growth, whilst producing low-carbon, indigenous electricity.

The UK offshore wind industry could contribute up to 0.8% of national GDP by 2030, according to widely-reported research published this week, by economics consultancy, Cambridge Econometrics. But this figure relies on the imported content of UK offshore wind farms falling rapidly, from 63% to 37%.

This would require the speedy development of a "substantial domestic supply chain," says Cambridge Econometrics. If the imported content were to remain at its current high level, then the UK offshore wind industry would contribute just 0.2% to GDP by 2030, notes the report.

In addition to Siemens, French industrial firm, Areva, has proposed locating some offshore wind turbine manufacture and assembly in Scotland. Other turbine producers, such as Mitsubishi, have small design teams in the UK.

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