Opinion: Wind industry must slow down turbine development to speed up the offshore rollout

It's time for a more collaborative approach to meet 2030 offshore wind deployment targets

The offshore wind industry must work together to achieve 2030 deployment targets, argues Anders Nielsen

The need to accelerate the green energy transition has never been more urgent.  According to the IEA, global renewable energy capacity will have to expand by three times its current size within the next eight years to keep global emissions aligned with the Paris Agreement. 

On top of that we’re facing a global energy crisis and an imminent need to wean our energy system off Russian oil and gas. 

Offshore is key to the transition

Offshore wind is key to realising this rapid transformation. This requires a sustainable offshore wind industry, ready to scale, and resilient enough to deliver according to demand for decades to come.

Offshore wind is expected to at least quadruple by 2030, the EU alone has a declared ambition to add 60GW by 2030 and 300GW by 2050, and the great market potential has attracted many new companies to invest in offshore. 

This has increased competition and accelerated technology development and product introductions. 

Working smarter, not harder

Rapid product introductions, however, challenge the industry’s ability to scale efficiently, optimise turbine performance and establish sustainable and efficient supply chains. If we are to grow profitably, the offshore wind industry needs to find a way to work smarter.

The immense potential, as well as the challenges, are something the entire offshore wind industry shares, and it’s time for us to pull together to ensure we deliver. 

To enable the massive build-out of offshore wind, it is key for the industry to mature and prepare for scalability and localisation. 

For this to happen, technology developers across the renewable value chain must be able to capture enough value to reinvest back into building scale and innovation. 

This is critical to ensure we can grow as an industry and grow quickly enough to remain in line with increasing energy needs and net-zero targets. 

Optimising the complete value chain calls for a smarter and more responsible approach to product development. 

Accelerating build-out requires decreasing execution time of projects, utilisation of existing vessels and more secure business cases for our customers and the rest of the value chain. 

Slow down and perfect technology

To that end, we must focus on perfecting and improving our existing platforms, and not introduce new technology too fast. Too rapid introduction of new technology, such as larger turbines, before existing technology has been properly implemented is not sustainable for offshore wind because it obstructs industrialisation of platforms and the ability to optimise installation processes and service as well as learn from performance data to strengthen quality. 

In combination, these aspects challenge profitability, limit new investments and hinder the industry’s ability to scale. 

Market design

Policy makers can support the growth by shifting their focus from costs to value. Offshore wind is already fully competitive from a value perspective, and it is critical to take this into account when designing the market framework. 

For instance, a rapidly growing, fully industrialised renewables industry holds enormous potential to yield a high social and economic return on investment. 

In Europe, one installed wind turbine has the potential to drive 10 million euros of economic activity (Wind Europe, 2021). The job requirement is 17.29 person-years per MW over the 25-year lifetime of a typical 500MW offshore wind project (GWEC, 2021), which means more than one million jobs by 2030 and around 5.2 million jobs by 2050. 

If the market keeps pushing for larger turbines, it will undermine the wind industry’s ability to scale and thereby reap these benefits of an expanding offshore wind industry and achieve the targets the world so direly needs us to reach. 

The new industrial revolution

Rapid and sustainable scaling of offshore wind is pivotal if we are to meet the looming 2030 deadline. 

The energy transition is one of the largest industrial revolutions in history, and the sheer magnitude and timeline of the transition mean we must act now to create a sustainable and profitable value chain. 

We have the solutions we need to get most of the way, and if we scale and optimise these sustainably, we will find the last solutions as well. 

However, if we don’t get the former right, we won’t be able to do the latter. 

To limit the accelerating climate crisis, we must pull together to ensure we can deliver the massive build-out in time and keep delivering for decades to come to ensure a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.

Anders Nielsen is chief technology officer at Vestas