Floating offshore wind can help deliver the UK’s renewables ambition
Image Credit: Principle Power
With global energy prices soaring, there is a newfound urgency at the top of government to ensure Britain’s long-term energy security.
The spark was the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, with millions of households hit with extraordinary energy bill hikes in recent weeks – and we know there is worse yet to come.
When the UK Government unveiled its new ‘energy security strategy’ in response, much of the attention was on the push for more nuclear power and a fresh licensing round for more North Sea oil and gas extraction.
But perhaps the most significant element was the new targets set for offshore wind.
This is not only the route to greater energy security, but also the route to Net Zero and the agreements set out at COP26 in Glasgow last year.
The UK’s new ambition is to generate up to 50GW through offshore wind by 2030, with a pledge to reduce approval times for new wind farms from four years to just one year.
And, crucially, the blueprint includes up to 5GW from floating offshore wind in deeper seas.
We could – and should – go much further than this.
However, the recognition of the role that floating offshore wind can play is welcome.
This is the inevitable next step in the expansion of offshore wind capability.
Around 80 per cent of the world’s wind resource, which has the potential to generate 11 times the global power demand, is in waters deeper than 60 metres which is unsuitable for traditional foundations which are fixed to the seabed.
By taking offshore wind to deeper waters and building at scale, we can reduce the costs of generating electricity in the harsh seas and rough weather conditions off the UK, contributing to net zero and security of supply.
Technological advances mean that giant turbines nearly as tall as the London Shard can now be installed on floating platforms not visible from any shoreline.
Aker Offshore Wind, with decades of experience in the North Sea from our bases in Scotland and England is already developing projects like this around the globe.
The excellent wind conditions around the UK means we can potentially accelerate the speed and scale from floating offshore wind, gaining first mover advantage to develop the technology needed to support a global industry from here in the UK.
We already have a solid base of floating solution and engineering capability here in the North Sea; if we make the right choices now we can be ahead of the technology curve as it further evolves.
Floating offshore wind needn’t be a standalone solution either - it is also a key component of the integrated energy agenda needed to deliver the UK’s renewables ambition.
At present, huge amounts of wind energy resource is effectively ‘stranded’ at sea - too far from shore, in deep water or the energy source is distant from where there is the greatest need and its consequently unaffordable to the consumer.
At Aker we have developed several integrated energy solution scenarios, using floating offshore wind turbines to generate energy which can then be further converted to other forms of clean energy, either offshore or onshore, such as green hydrogen, ammonia and synthetic fuels in the future. In this way the clean energy can be more easily transported to the areas of need.
In Scotland we looked at transporting a liquid form of clean energy by ship, to access global markets. In Wales and north-east England we are currently evaluating integrated energy proposals to utilise the offshore wind resources to decarbonise onshore industrial corridors at the pre-combustion stage.
A further benefit of integrated energy solutions is they are not necessarily dependent on a connection to the onshore national electricity grid, which is frequently a major time constraint in accessing offshore wind energy.
Such projects, along with traditional offshore floating wind leasing rounds, come with major economic benefits as well if we can create the thousands of high-skilled green jobs committed to by government and the industry.
All of this will require effective policy and collaboration across government, industry and investors.
But the private sector, working with government, can make a significant contribution to the UK’s Net Zero ambitions and bring the costs down for floating offshore wind through commercial-scale deployment, also using proven technology such as Principle Power’s floating platform design WindFloat which has been in operation for over 10 years, to further standardise and simplify designs.
This in turn will also support the supply chain to understand where and how to invest and build the industrial strength in the UK to underpin the ongoing energy transition.
The UK does have the ability to provide the energy security that governments now recognise is so vital – the significant potential of floating offshore wind and green hydrogen can be an important part of not only delivering that greener future but also building a new industrial base in our country.
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