WindEnergy Hamburg 2020: European cooperation ‘critical’ to UK offshore wind targets

The UK's trade commissioner for Europe said the country wants and needs to work with its European partners in offshore wind development

Richard Burn (right) was interviewed by WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson (left) at the WindEnergy Hamburg digital event

Cooperation with European partners will be “critical” to the UK realising its goal of 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 and meeting its local content targets, according to the UK trade commissioner for Europe.

However, Brexit threatens to limit its ability to work with countries with which it shares the North Sea, Richard Burn told WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson in an interview at the WindEnergy Hamburg digital event.

Burn said the UK needs to work with European companies and governments to ensure the UK offshore wind sector has enough skilled workers and the necessary supply chain investment, and is able to exploit cross-border wind farms.

The UK aims to have 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, up from 11.8GW today, according to Windpower Intelligence

It wants to source 60% of its offshore wind equipment from within the UK – up from about 25% today, Burn added. The UK has not set a date for realising this target.

“We need to invest more and we need to partner more with European colleagues,” Burn said. “Collaboration with Europe is critical.” 

The UK’s plans for 40GW of offshore wind could support 60,000 jobs by 2030, the government has claimed.

Filling jobs

However, the country will need help from abroad to fill these jobs with people with the right skill set, Burn believes. The UK will also need foreign turbine manufacturers and companies across the supply chain to invest in a manufacturing footprint in the UK

“I think finding people with the right skills – especially in a new industry – is important,” he said.

“We don’t have enough people to fill all the jobs that we project if we get to 60% (supply chain in the UK) and if we get to 40GW.”

However, Burn added: “We are confident that if we work with our partners, we will get the jobs – as well as the right people for the jobs.”

The UK government recently pledged to invest £160 million (€178 million) in preparing its ports for offshore wind, and the sector is due to receive an unspecified portion of the £12 billion funding announced for the UK’s ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution.

Burn added that the UK is currently bringing forward seabed leases, looking at requirements for grids in the future and identifying sites of new wind farms.

Identifying new sites and awarding more leases is especially critical as analysts at Cornwall Insight believe the UK is currently set to miss its 40GW target.

The analysts’ figures suggest that even if all current offshore wind sites with leasing are developed in the coming years, the UK’s total offshore wind capacity would only reach 29.7GW by 2030 – below the 40GW target as well as the old 30GW target.

The UK is currently limited in its ability to export offshore wind energy to countries that also border the North Sea, Burn admitted.

The European Commission has barred it from doing so as part of the EU-funded European North Seas Energy Cooperation.

This is because the UK is no longer part of the EU, although it is still part of the EU customs union and single market during its Brexit transition phase, which is due to end on 1 January 2021.

The UK now has to rely on bilateral talks with these countries about sharing wind farm connections, rather than being able to take part in group talks, Burn added.

For example, the UK's National Grid Ventures is in talks with Dutch TSO Tennet about the possibility of commissioning a cross-border interconnection project by 2029. And yesterday UK energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng told the conference he had spoken with his Belgian counterpart Tinne Van Der Straeten about the potential of interconnection between the two countries.

“I think we do want to connect (out offshore wind farms) with other countries, but it requires making sure the grids are compatible, a lot of cabling, and a lot of understanding of what the legal system is when you are operating across borders,” Burn said.

“We are very keen to work with our European partners.” 

WindEnergy Hamburg 2020 is being held virtually this year across two channels on the WindTV platform