United Kingdom

United Kingdom

UK Offshore - Transmission/Business Opportunities - Port infrastructure upgrades essential

With Britain's offshore wind sector set to ramp up significantly, a potential £1 billion business opportunity for the country's ports is up for grabs before 2020. "Britain's ports could become the hub of activity and economic opportunity as we massively increase the amount of renewable energy we get from our seas," says energy minister Mike O'Brien.

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Due to both market growth and the large size of offshore turbines, manufacturers are increasingly looking to portside locations to assemble their machines. With plans for up to 25 GW offshore in the next decade, in addition to the 8 GW already in development, "our ports will face enormous demand," says O'Brien. Transporting turbines by road is less viable and offshore turbines by definition need to be shipped by sea at some point. So potential port-located jobs would include assembly, construction, and operation and maintenance (O&M).

Specifically for port owners, around 1% of the total installed cost of an offshore wind farm is directly incurred in port-related costs, such as land rental, harbour and cargo use payments, pilotage, cranes and handling costs. "This translates to a potential market for UK ports worth in excess of £150 million per year at peak installation rate, totalling over £800 million up to 2020," says the recent report, UK Ports for the Offshore Wind Industry: Time to Act, produced by BVG Associates for the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Together with O&M, "this is likely to approach £1 billion." The UK's port owners - mostly private firms - are therefore starting to wake up to the potential.

To play a successful role, ports need to have the capacity to handle large vessels as well as space to accommodate wind turbine manufacturers and their supply chains. A typical offshore construction port needs to have at least eight hectares available and vehicle access for the exceptionally wide jack-up vessels used for wind farm construction. The UK has enough potential locations to meet the needs of future offshore wind development, says BVG, but at present too few sites fit the bill. If that does not change "securing manufacturing investment and the associated supply chain for offshore wind in the UK could be difficult."

The Institute For Public Policy Research (IPPR) agrees. "Without a proactive strategy there is a significant chance that the UK offshore wind market will continue to rely on imports from continental Europe," says its report, Green Jobs: Prospects for creating jobs from offshore wind in the UK. Even if the UK's port owners do upgrade facilities, persuading European manufacturers to invest will not be easy. For companies with existing facilities in continental Europe, expanding capacity of these to supply the UK's market is likely to be more appealing than starting a new factory from scratch, says IPPR. It suggests that, instead, efforts should focus on attracting new entrants and manufacturers yet to establish a base in Europe. "Developing the UK's port capacity will be an important step for attracting companies to locate to the UK," it adds. "A mixture of public and private funding should be used to achieve this."

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