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The rate of progress may not be quite what was envisaged even a couple of years ago, but in 2014 the UK consolidated its position as the world's biggest producer of electricity generated from offshore wind. Cumulative capacity stood at 4,649MW at the end of last year, 56% of the total in European waters, with 996MW added during the 12-month period.
The biggest projects to come online last year were both in the Irish Sea - RWE Innogy's 576MW Gwynt y Mor, and the 389MW West of Duddon Sands, jointly developed by Dong Energy and Iberdrola subsidiary Scottish Power. Both are equipped with Siemens's 3.6MW turbine (see box, overleaf). Also at an advanced stage of construction with full commissioning expected over the next few months are Dong's 210MW Westermost Rough and E.on's 219MW Humber Gateway, both on the east coast, and Vattenfall's 49.5MW Kentish Flats extension off the south east. Westermost Rough is the first commercial project to use the new Siemens SWT-6.0-154 machine; the other two are powered by Vestas V112 3.0MW and 3.3MW turbines respectively.
Five further projects, potentially adding around 3GW in capacity, were approved last year for final investment decisions (FIDs) under the UK government's new contracts for difference (CfD) scheme. Developer Dong was by far the biggest winner in this round, responsible for the 256MW Burbo Bank extension, which will be the first commercial project to use the MHI Vestas V164-8.0MW turbine, plus the 660MW Walney 3, for which turbines have not been specified yet. Both are scheduled for commissioning in 2017-18. Dong has also recently upped its stake from 33% to 100% in the Hornsea One project, 100 kilometres from the east coast, buying out the share held by Smart Wind, a joint venture set up by Mainstream Renewables and Siemens. Nominally of 1.2GW in capacity, Hornsea One is expected to be built in two stages of around 500MW, probably using 6MW Siemens turbines. Commissioning is scheduled for 2020.
The other projects given the CfD green light are Dudgeon (402MW), which is being developed by Statoil and Statkraft off the east coast, and Beatrice (664MW), which was initiated by SSE Renewables. The Beatrice development, off the coast of north-east Scotland, was the biggest surprise of last year's CfD announcement, given that SSE had just made clear its lack of enthusiasm for offshore wind in general, and has since cut its share of the project from 75% to 50%. Statoil expects to start installing Siemens 6MW turbines at Dudgeon in January 2017. Beatrice looks, at best, a couple of years behind.
It all becomes more uncertain after that. Another round of bidding for CfDs is now under way, with the results expected late February. Projects likely to be in the mix include Scottish Power's and Vattenfall's East Anglia One, EDPR's Inch Cape and Moray Firth, E.on's Rampion, and Mainstream Renewable Power's Neart Na Goithe. RWE has also declared interest in a CfD for its Galloper project. On paper, this adds up to well over 4GW, but it is very unlikely that all projects will secure approval, at least at the size originally envisaged. Scottish Power, for example, has already made clear that its submission for East Anglia One will be for rather less than the 1.2GW first planned.
The CfD scheme, under which generators receive a top-up payment when the wholesale electricity price is below the pre-agreed "strike price" and pay money back if the price rises above it, has been a source of some contention within the UK offshore industry. The strike price for offshore wind, guaranteed for 15 years, has been set at £155/MWh (EUR207/MWh) for projects starting in 2015, falling progressively to £140/MWh (EUR187/MWh) by 2018/19.
Developers have broadly welcomed the financial security it offers, while complaining that the pot of money offered by the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) is insufficient to fund very large projects. Although Decc has twice increased the amount available, it is estimated to be only enough to facilitate about 800MW of new capacity a year. Developers have also pointed out that just to get a project to the stage where it can pitch for a CfD can cost up to £50 million (EUR67 million).
All this rather suggests that the UK will struggle to achieve 10GW of offshore wind by the end of the decade, some way short of the 13-18GW that the industry was predicting only two years ago.
More encouraging, however, is that the UK is at last being seen as a place where manufacturers can build turbines and their components, and not just install them. Siemens has begun work on a new facility to produce rotor blades at Hull on England's north-east coast. MHI-Vestas is recruiting staff for another blade manufacturing plant on the Isle of Wight, on the southern coast. And late last year, the government announced that a new national college for offshore wind energy would open its doors to students in autumn 2016.
SIEMENS 3.6MW HITS 1,000 MARK COMPANY OWNS THREE QUARTERS OF UK MARKET
There are 1,460 wind turbines either operating or about to go online in UK waters, not counting pilots, prototypes and test sites. And 1,000 of these are the Siemens SWT-3.6MW model. This landmark number was reached in mid-February.
Equipped with rotor diameters of 107 or 120 metres, this direct-drive turbine has dominated the UK offshore scene for several years and now powers 13 of the country's 24 projects, accounting for 71% of total capacity by megawatt and 68.5% by turbine numbers.
Add in the older 2.3MW Siemens wind turbine models at EDF EN's 62.1MW Teesside project, and the new 6MW turbines at Westermost Rough currently under construction, and the German manufacturer holds over 76% of the total UK offshore market.
A long, long way behind stands Vestas, with 368 turbines for a total capacity of 1,048MW installed in the UK, representing just over 20% of the market. Most of these are 3.0MW or 3.3MW machines with rotor diameters of 90 or 112 metres, although there are some older 2MW units in operation.
Only one other turbine manufacturer, Senvion, is represented in the UK, and its involvement is limited to 30 5MW units at Vattenfall's Ormonde project, the only UK offshore wind farm to use jacket rather than 0 foundations.