“A British Success Story”: A Decade of Offshore Wind Power
As the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult celebrates its 10th anniversary, we look back at a remarkable decade of transformation in the offshore renewable energy sector and try to anticipate what the future holds as the nation heads towards its net zero target.
Anniversaries are not just moments of celebration. They are also moments of reflection, and an anniversary provides an opportunity to pause and look back on the journey so far, as well as ponder what comes next.
This year marks a decade since the launch of ORE Catapult. It is not just an important milestone for that particular organisation. It is also a moment to consider the way that an entire industry, one which was in its early stages in 2013, has rapidly emerged to make the UK an acknowledged world leader in harvesting the power generated off its coastlines.
Minister of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Rt Hon. Graham Stuart MP, describes offshore wind generation as a “British success story.” He tells PoliticsHome that the growth of the sector has delivered both environmental and economic benefits.
“We are now generating record amounts of electricity from wind which has been consistently supported by ORE Catapult’s Government-funded projects,” Stuart explains. “These projects have not only made offshore wind one of the cheapest forms of renewable electricity but have also created thousands of jobs and growth across the country.”
The latest data supports Stuart’s assessment. The numbers tell a compelling story of accelerated growth.
In 2013, the UK had just 3.5GW of operational offshore wind, and the costs of generation were high compared to traditional generation from gas. This resulted in offshore wind representing a meagre 3.2% of our total energy supply.
However, in just ten years, this position has been transformed. The amount of installed capacity has quadrupled to 14GW and costs of generation have been slashed to the point where it is now one of the cheapest forms of new electricity in the UK. Last year, over a quarter of the nation’s energy was provided by wind, with the majority of that coming from offshore generation.
Andrew Jamieson has been at the helm of the ORE Catapult since its launch in 2013. This has given him a front row seat to witness the way the industry has grown.
He tells PoliticsHome how, in the early days of the Catapult, no-one could possibly have predicted how rapidly offshore generation would become a core part of the UK’s energy mix.
“All of us who were involved in the early days were united by a real optimism about the potential that offshore renewables had, not just for the way we generated power but also as a driver of economic growth,” he tells us. “But even long-term advocates for the sector would have struggled to predict the remarkable pace of transformation.”
Jamieson recalls how, when ORE Catapult was founded, offshore wind was still very much a new technology, with all of the accompanying risks and uncertainties. Scaling the sector required action across a range of areas to develop the skills, technology, and knowhow to propel the UK to the global forefront of offshore renewables.
“The offshore wind industry stands as testament to Bill Gates’ belief that most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year, and underestimate what they can achieve in ten,” Jamieson observes. “I am proud of what ORE Catapult has achieved, but that has only been possible due to the culture of innovation and continuous improvement that exists right across the sector.”
The rise of offshore wind has been particularly pertinent to the UK’s needs. Put simply, it is the right technology at the right time. Since ORE Catapult began supporting the sector, the urgency of finding stable, affordable, and clean energy has rocketed up the policy agenda. The transition to net zero has moved from an aspiration to a political and environmental imperative, whilst the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought issues of energy security sharply into focus. At the same time, rapidly rising energy costs have emphasised the urgency of developing a dependable supply of affordable energy.
But it is not only the nation’s energy mix that offshore wind has transformed. The development of the sector has also kickstarted wider economic growth, particularly in regions that have struggled in recent decades.
Looking back at the achievements of ORE Catapult, it is that added economic value that really captures the attention. Over the last decade the Catapult has been at the heart of over £677m of innovation projects, supported more than 1350 UK SMEs, and been instrumental in bringing 148 innovative new products and services to market. This has been achieved across sites at Glasgow, Blyth, the Humber, Aberdeen, Cornwall, Pembrokeshire and elsewhere, demonstrating the diverse regional footprint of the organisation.
Many of these businesses have been centred on new growth sectors such as robotics, digitalisation, and data analysis. This has led to the emergence of new clusters of expertise that are now benefiting UK industry as a whole.
“The offshore wind industry is a major British success story, with the UK hosting the world’s four biggest operational offshore wind farm projects and the largest operational fleet in Europe,” Graham Stuart MP tells PoliticsHome. “This would not have been possible without the innovative work of the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult over this past decade.”
Andrew Jamieson is pleased that politicians acknowledge the critical role that ORE Catapult has played in fostering innovation. However, he is equally clear that this is not an industry that will rest on its laurels. Despite the astonishing progress to date, he tells us that the journey is far from complete. He believes the sector is now poised to accelerate into the next phase of its development, creating cheaper, cleaner energy, and acting as a catalyst for further economic growth.
“It is good to pause and look back on what the sector has achieved,” he explains, “but it is always much more important to look forward. The industry has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations of what it could achieve 10 years. But that creates a new set of expectations about what we will achieve together in the coming decade. Together we can achieve them.”
That sense of ambition and optimism for the future is something that Graham Stuart shares.
“As we ramp up the UK’s offshore wind capacity and accelerate our wider energy transition to net zero, we look forward to closer collaboration to make the next decade an even greater success than the last,” he tells us.
Offshore wind has come a very long way since 2013. However, the scale of the challenges we face around energy supply and decarbonisation make it imperative that the sector’s journey of innovation and collaboration continues.
At the forefront of those challenges is ensuring that pricing mechanisms incentivize supply chain investment and innovation from developers. Maximizing the proportion of UK-made content in deployment of developing technologies such as Floating Offshore Wind will ensure that the economic value of new developments is captured across the UK, creating thousands of skilled green jobs in the process, and securing the future of this vital industry.
If it manages to maintain its pace of progress to date, then imagine just where the industry could be by the time the nation reaches 2033.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.