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The future is offshore

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Energy Global,

Offshore wind is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy sources in the world, with the potential to provide clean, reliable, and affordable electricity to millions of homes and businesses. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), offshore wind could generate more than 18 times the current global electricity demand, provided governments and industry work together to accelerate its deployment. Offshore wind is especially important for the UK, which has the largest installed capacity after China and the most ambitious targets in the world. The UK aims to quadruple its offshore wind capacity to 50 GW by 2030 and to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

However, achieving these goals will not be easy, as the offshore wind industry faces several challenges, not least political and regulatory uncertainty, grid integration, supply chain bottlenecks, environmental impacts, and social resistance. But what are the most significant challenges facing offshore wind in the UK, and what are the possible solutions for the industry to overcome them?

Offshore wind is a key technology for the global and UK energy transition, offering several advantages over other energy sources.

First, offshore wind has a higher technical potential than onshore wind, as the wind speeds and capacity factors are higher and more consistent at sea than on land. This means that offshore wind farms can produce more electricity per unit of installed capacity and can operate at higher load factors throughout the year. As a result, a comparatively small number of offshore wind farm projects can deliver massive quantities of renewable energy capacity in relatively short timescales when compared to other energy sources. For example, the single Seagreen project developed by SSE has a capacity of 1.1 GW and can deliver enough green energy to power approximately 1.6 million UK homes.

Second, offshore wind has a low carbon footprint, as it does not emit any green-house gases or air pollutants during operation and has relatively low lifecycle emissions compared to fossil fuels and nuclear power. Indeed, according to the IEA, offshore wind has a life cycle carbon footprint (including construction, operation, and decommissioning) more than 99% lower than the equivalent coal-fired power station. It is also lower than other clean energy sources, like nuclear, due to the simpler construction and operation processes.

Third, offshore wind has a positive socio-economic impact, creating jobs, stimulating economic growth, and supporting local communities. According to a report by RenewableUK, the offshore wind industry in the UK supported 26 000 direct and in-direct jobs in 2019 and contributed £5.4 billion to the UK GDP. The same report projected that the offshore wind industry could support as many as 69 800 jobs and contribute £18.6 billion to the UK GDP by 2026 if targets are met. Moreover, the offshore wind industry provides opportunities for local employment, skills development, innovation, and benefits for coastal communities, such as improved infrastructure, tourism, and fisheries.

Finally, offshore wind does not typically face the same level of community resistance as solar farms or nuclear power stations, for example, as it places most of the infrastructure out at sea. As with any infrastructure development, offshore wind does inevitably face some challenges, but these are outweighed by significant benefit compared with land-based energy sources. Modern developments, such as HVDC cables that reduce transmission losses, allow the farms to be placed further offshore minimising potential issues with coastal communities.

The challenges and possible solutions

Despite the importance of offshore wind for the global and UK energy transition, the industry faces several challenges that could hinder its growth and development. The offshore wind industry depends on stable and supportive policies and regulations to attract investment and reduce costs. However, the policy landscape for offshore wind is often complex and uncertain, involving multiple levels of governance at the national, regional, and local level, as well as different sectors, such as energy, environment, planning, and maritime.

For example, in the UK, the offshore wind industry is subject to the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, which is a competitive auction mechanism that guarantees a fixed price for the electricity generated by offshore wind farms for 15 years. However, the CfD scheme is subject to periodic reviews and changes, which can affect the level and frequency of support for offshore wind projects, as was the case with the Auction Round 5. The government implemented a maximum price cap that failed to reflect the changing reality resulting from the Ukraine war and inflation.

The result was a sum total of zero bids from offshore wind developers. This was a significant missed opportunity, though hopefully also a major lesson learned for governments. Whilst offshore wind is a very mature technology, the industry will still require external support if the necessary progress towards net-zero targets is to be maintained.


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