Floating wind farms are clean, green and set to be significant to the future economy – with the Net Zero Technology Centre championing a collaborative approach from the entire energy sector to maximise  their full potential. By Andrew Collier 

 

IT'S a simple fact that the wind blows a lot in Scotland. In some cases, of course, that can be a curse. But in the face of climate change and the ever growing need for sustainability, it is becoming more and more of a blessing.

The power generated by wind turbines, and particularly those located offshore, is going to be massively important in the coming years and decades. It will be clean, green and economically significant, creating thousands of new jobs and leading to billions in investment.

The British Energy Security Strategy, recently published by the UK Government in response to the conflict in Ukraine, sets a new ambition to boost offshore wind. It steps up the proposed pace of delivery from 40 gigawatts to 50 by 2030.

Significantly, some five gigawatts of this will come from floating offshore platforms.

Floating wind is particularly important because it allows turbines to be located further away from the shore, where the water is deeper and where the wind blows more, creating more potential for power generation.

There are clearly challenges to this speedy rollout, but Scotland has determination as well as a long history of expertise, skills and partnership and support from the Scottish and UK Governments.

“This is very much about partnership”, says Mary Thorogood, Government Relations, External Affairs and Communications Director at the Net Zero Technology Centre, which seeks to develop and deploy technology for an affordable net zero energy industry.

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“We can’t do this without industry, and it’s about leveraging the funding and the knowledge from areas such as the oil and gas industry and the technology and wind developers.”

Ms Thorogood believes that when it comes to the next generation of wind development, Scotland is going to be at the forefront of understanding.  

“If you look at places like China, South Korea, Poland, Vietnam and Australia, they are all looking to transition from the oil and gas industry and using those skills as we move towards a green future.”

She admits that working towards 50 gigawatts by 2030 is a huge – indeed, world leading – ambition. “We are well on the way there already, but we now need to have a plan for delivery.”

The challenges to achieving this 2030 target include finding the right sites and speeding up both the consenting process and connecting to the grid, but the industry believes it is possible to 
meet it. 
“I’ve heard it called a national endeavour. We do already have working infrastructure and the learnings from that are crucial for the industry – not just for the developers, but also for the supply chain.”

If the 2030 target is met – and there is every reason to believe it will be – then the positive consequences will be huge: it will mean more than enough wind can be harvested to power every home in Britain. It will also mean that most of the country’s renewable generation capacity will come from wind.

The country’s track record in this form of generation is undisputed. At present, more than 3.5 gigawatts of offshore wind is already operational or under construction, with another 6.4 gigawatts in the pipeline.

It is now more than a decade since the world’s first 30 megawatt deep water floating wind farm, Hywind, was developed here. 

Two of the largest offshore projects in the world, the 1075 megawatt Seagreen and the 950 megawatt Moray East projects are both under construction in Scotland. In addition, the 50 megawatt Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm is now generating power. 

It is currently the largest floating wind array on the planet but others are catching up fast, such as the 88MW Hywind Tampen in Norway, currently in construction.

The recent ScotWind leasing round awarded sites off the coast for a total of 17 projects covering 7000 square kilometres. Taken together, they have a potential generating capacity of 25 gigawatts

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has described the ScotWind auction as a “truly historic opportunity for Scotland’s new zero economy” and as a “massive vote of confidence in Scotland.”

The cost of offshore wind power has fallen dramatically in the past few years and it is anticipated that it will remain one of the cheapest power sources. The investment required remains one of the main challenges, though there is real impetus and a belief that it will continue to be available.

There is also a significant opportunity for the supply chain. With its legacy of pioneering and excellence in oil and gas, the North East of Scotland is at the forefront of technology development.

Its decades of subsea expertise, in particular, are supported by academics and researchers from world class institutions. 

As Mary Thorogood points out, there is also a major opportunity in green hydrogen – very much a clean fuel of the future – being produced directly from wind power. 

“Production is a technical process, but you can have the electrolyser to produce this actually in the turbine or onshore. In each case though, it’s fundamentally the wind making the hydrogen.

“The really big opportunity for green hydrogen in Scotland is in exporting it, particularly to Europe. The Net Zero Technology Centre is working on the Hydrogen Backbone Project, funded by the Energy Transformation Fund, to look at how we do that and if we can use existing pipelines.We don't have all the answers yet, but we are looking to better understand just what we will need.”
www.netzerotc.com

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New projects could charge ahead by cutting red tape

IF Scotland is to meet its low carbon targets, then there is no time to waste when it comes to constructing its offshore wind infrastructure. Building 50 gigawatts of generation capacity by 2050 is going to be a huge challenge, so things need to move quickly.

The British Energy Security Strategy, published last month points out that the transition away from oil and gas depends critically on how quickly renewable sources of power can be rolled out.

It says that investment into new British industries including offshore wind is set to amount to £100 billion by 2030, with no less than 480,000 green jobs created by the end of the decade. 

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To speed up the process of change, the strategy calls for red tape in areas such as achieving consents to be reduced. The document commits the government to cutting approval times for new offshore wind farms from four years to just one.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, speaks in the document of “slashing our way through needless and repetitive red tape” to allow things to happen quickly. He adds: “Energy companies tell me they can get an offshore wind turbine upright and generating in less than 24 hours, but that it can take as much as 10 years to secure the licences and permissions required to do so.”

Mary Thorogood also believes that the main challenge in terms of wind project development is bringing projects forward quickly. “How do we make our consenting more efficient? How do we collaborate more on sharing data, particularly between wind and oil and gas?

“There’s also the issue of connection to the grid. The first ScotWind projects aren’t due to connect to that until the late 2020s. We need some of them to be sooner.”

Investors, she adds, are now keen to become involved. “There really is an appetite out there, and it’s the big investors – companies like BP and Shell. This isn’t a cottage industry anymore. It’s an established industry that serious investors put their money in.

“That’s a very important signal for Scotland on the world stage. We want to lead this race and with so many countries trying to follow, showing our level of ambition is important. We now need to accelerate that delivery.”

To meet the challenge of building its energy future, Scotland needs to make the most of its natural advantages such as good seabeds and high winds. With smarter planning, the pace of deployment of wind technology can be increased by 25 per cent.

“I think we all know where we’ve got to be”, says Mary Thorogood. “The only way we can approach this is with a real sense of optimism and a can-do attitude. 

“We’ve got the wind and we’ve got the supply chain. 

“We have to now look at how we connect up the power from Scotland and some of that from English waters to the rest of Europe. 

“We’re really near places like The Netherlands and we know how to build cables to link projects up. Connecting the whole of Europe on a grid in the future is something that is potentially really exciting.”

In a separate move, bidding is now underway for green freeports in Scotland, following on from the model in England and Wales announced last year. 

“This brings various tax, investment and customs benefits. There will be two sites and they will be really attractive for the supply chain and for innovation. 

“They will add up to a really coherent offer for investors. 

“The offshore wind sector needs really big spaces to bring in and store its materials and components.”