At first sight the topics of the offshore wind conference circuit seem to cover every conceivable aspect of the industry. However, the papers tend to focus on the technical side whilst, just a few short steps from the lecture theatres, in the break-out areas and coffee bars, a much wider story is emerging – one that suggests a profound leap forward may be imminent. These are just some of the issues bubbling under the more official agendas and discussions in Hamburg.
Every day, it seems, a new country declares an interest: Taiwan, India, the USA, Canada, Australia, Norway, Japan, the list goes on. Dramatic price falls in the cost of electricity produced by offshore wind means that those previously sceptical nations with seabed are now looking to the industry to deliver their energy needs.
Ever larger machines
Hunterston offshore turbine test facility commissioned in 2014 gave a good indication of the direction of travel – bigger machines were coming. The site trialled 6MW and 7MW turbines, which have since been uprated and deployed on Beatrice and other fleets. The industry is now working with 12 MW and even 15MW machines where economy of scale makes offshore wind even more attractive to investors.
Floating offshore wind
Floating machines such as those used in the operational Hywind site off Scotland’s’ Northeast coast are already having considerable impact with remarkable capacity and generation figures. Their successful deployment shows a clear way forward for deeper water sites. Once cabling catches up with innovative turbine mooring systems floating wind will become an ever more enticing prospect. Floating arrays are expensive but, as is already the case with fixed foundations, the expected further cost reductions will bring more market entrants.
Future offshore wind farms will likely form the main element of offshore renewable generation plants. We can expect joined-up technologies such as wind coupled with hydrogen generation and with tidal power. This will be challenging, but solutions involving battery arrays and shared electrical infrastructure for export to consumers will emerge.
UK Sector deal?
The UK is leading the way in offshore wind and this is recognised within government. Opportunities are being discussed with the Crown Estate and a possible sector deal within the evolving UK industrial strategy now seems possible – a remarkable achievement. This could enable another quantum leap forward from an industry which did not exist two decades ago, but now regularly delivers mega-projects and stands at the dynamic forefront of the UK economy.