Grid connection, deep water ports: how government can strengthen UK offshore wind

Grid connection, deep water ports: how government can strengthen UK offshore wind

Riviera 06 Jul 2020 by David Foxwell

UK Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) chairman Philip Dunne MP has written to Minister Kwasi Kwarteng MP at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy highlighting remaining barriers for expansion of offshore wind energy generation in the UK and how they can be overcome.

The letter follows a recent evidence hearing held by the EAC and written evidence received as part of its inquiry into technological innovation and climate change.

Mr Dunne said, “Offshore wind is a brilliant British success story. The government rightly has set ambitious targets to increase offshore wind energy generation but achieving and exceeding them will require the government to support the sector even more.

“From ensuring the grid is capable of taking energy from expanding sites, to paving the way for the deepwater port infrastructure necessary for larger turbine blades, we can seize the opportunity to generate more energy through offshore wind as we move to a low carbon economy. Offshore wind has to play an even more significant role if the UK is to meet net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The EAC said it recognises the huge progress made in developing offshore wind in the UK since 2010, particularly with government encouragement through its Sector Deal and engagement with industry. The UK has the largest market in the world for offshore wind, and every year has seen a steady increase in the amount of electricity being generated by wind power, with statistics for 2019 showing a 3% increase from 2018 to 20%.

The inquiry highlighted to the EAC, however, a number of areas which the government needs to address to achieve its ambitious targets and remove barriers to further progress.

Connecting to the electricity grid remains a challenging issue for new windfarms. The increased scale of future offshore wind requires major development of the electricity transmission networks both onshore and offshore. The current approach offers each developer a bespoke single connection, with multiple windfarms creating significant impacts from cabling to the local environment and communities. In order to minimise these impacts on communities and drive efficiency for operators, it is key that Ofgem considers alternative methods for grid connection to enable developers more flexibility to support greater use.

The demand for deepwater ports is getting greater with the increased size of turbines and turbine blades. They are also required to support floating windfarms. But the UK’s deepwater ports are already reaching capacity, limiting further progress. The EAC said the government must look to the examples of France and other European countries which have invested significantly in deepwater ports and clarify how it is supporting port investment and co-location of technology clusters to develop competitive advantage.

The EAC also suggested that a more strategic approach to planning offshore wind developments would be strategic marine planning, rather than piecemeal leasing and planning applications, ensuring wildlife is protected and avoiding sites being refused due to interference with shipping or aviation radar. This could ensure clarity for the sector ahead of applying for planning permission. The government has therefore been asked what is currently being done to adopt a more strategic approach to support the UK’s net zero ambitions.

In evidence received by the EAC, there was widespread support for changes to the contracts for difference regime that would see floating wind projects, which have distinct cost parameters, able to compete in a separate pot. The EAC supports this approach.

The Offshore Wind Sector Deal set out an aspiration of 60% of the supply chain utilising content from the UK, but the EAC learnt that this is incredibly challenging and expensive for SMEs. The EAC is therefore seeking clarity on how much the government will be allocating in the next Budget to encourage investment by industry to support a green economic recovery, and in particular, to give confidence to SMEs to enter the offshore wind supply chain.

The EAC is also urging the government to consider export potential of offshore wind, and to shift the balance of energy project finance by UK Export Finance from fossil fuel to renewable energy projects, especially where the UK has a strong competitive edge in offshore wind expertise.

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