Keep targets in perspective

There will be some individual success stories, but the likelihood of Europe as a whole meeting its 2020 expectations for offshore wind capacity lies somewhere between slim and non-existent.

Offshore sector has come along way in its first ten years (pic:Siemens)
Offshore sector has come along way in its first ten years (pic:Siemens)

If Europe is to reach its cumulative target of 43GW it must install an average of 5GW every year for the next seven years. The current rate of installation stands at under 2GW a year.

In 2009, the European Commission set a target to achieve 15% of energy from renewables. Each member state was given its own target, and roadmaps were laid out to show how to achieve this. Of the offshore wind plans included, the UK, Germany and France account for the lion's share of ambition, aiming to commission 34GW between them by the end of 2020. The UK did not set a specific target for offshore wind, instead identifying a series of delivery scenarios based on the cost of electricity. Its current aim for 2020 is to achieve £100/MWh, which calls for 18GW of offshore wind by 2020, of which 3.65GW is up and running. It is a hugely ambitious objective, equivalent to building another 23 London Arrays in seven years.

Trade body RenewableUK says this "is possible, even likely", but its confidence is not universally shared. European Offshore Wind 2013: Realising the Opportunity, a report published in the summer by legal firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, surveyed 200 senior executives in the offshore industry. Only one fifth of them thought the 18GW figure will be reached.

Industry observers in Germany freely admit the country will not hit its 10GW target. Their forecasts now range from 6GW to 8GW, still a formidable challenge with only 520MW currently installed in German waters.

France, yet to commission its first offshore turbine, has dismissed its original target of 6GW with a great Gallic shrug of the shoulders. The country is unlikely to exceed 2GW by 2020.

New realism

We should not be too surprised or depressed by the likely shortfall. These targets were set in 2009, when the full implications of the financial crash were yet to be realised. The offshore sector was still very new, and the cost and complexity of constructing large projects, particularly with regard to the pressure it would place on the supply chain, were perhaps underestimated (see chart, below).

The offshore objectives may not be met, but that should not disguise the fact that significant progress has already been made, and that the rate of installation is set to speed up considerably over the next few years. A new generation of larger, more powerful turbines will play their part in firmly establishing offshore wind as a major contributor to Europe's clean energy production.

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