More than just the green option: Offshore wind is a £9bn-per-year opportunity for the UK
A crew transfer vessel servicing an offshore wind farm | Credit: Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult
The UK’s experience in the oil and gas industry should make capitalising on offshore wind growth a breeze – given investment now and a fair wind from Government.
The UK already leads the world in offshore wind operations and maintenance (O&M), a rapidly growing market that is on course to be worth £1.3bn per year in the UK alone – and almost £9bn globally – by 2030. As the ongoing activity that follows the commissioning of a new project, offshore wind O&M occurs throughout the life of the project – usually around 25 years. Bringing together operations, support, maintenance and research and development, its objective is to ensure the wind farm achieves the best balance between running cost and electricity output.
It’s a huge opportunity – and thanks to the UK’s experience in the North Sea oil and gas industry, we are uniquely positioned to lead the way as offshore wind O&M grows in the coming decades. By leveraging its existing knowledge and expertise, the UK can create internationally significant service businesses in offshore wind O&M, seize both domestic and export opportunities along the way and significantly contribute to the national levelling up agenda.
The Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult and the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult stand ready to support businesses as the market grows, building on work from the UK’s extensive research base to accelerate the development and application of the technologies that will cement the UK’s position as the global leader in offshore wind O&M. For example, HVM Catapult centres are developing a new, lighter composite turbine blade that is not only partly recyclable but can generate 9% more energy from the same turbine and costs 30% less to manufacture.
But if progress like this is to continue apace, investment in infrastructure is needed, as a new report published by the ORE Catapult makes clear. In the report, energy industry leader Sir Ian Wood highlights the vital role played by the Offshore Supplies Office (OSO), the now-disbanded UK Government agency that was established in 1973 and whose remit it was to support British suppliers to the offshore oil and gas industry in the British sector of the North Sea.
“Their presence helped us to win projects, especially in the early days of the North Sea’s development when UK government licences were very valuable, and the operators were keen to please,” says Sir Ian.
“There will be something wrong if, by 2035, the UK has not built on its current strong position to be recognised as a world leading player in the international renewable sector. We should become a centre of excellence.”
Sir Ian’s ambitions are matched by Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, George Freeman, who predicts the Southern North Sea will become the “Saudi Arabia of wind energy” as the world’s largest concentration of offshore wind production.
“Having been the source of the oil and gas wealth, which helped turbocharge the UK economy from the 1980s, the North Sea is now set to power the Green Industrial Revolution,” he comments.
“This creates huge opportunities for the Eastern region to become an energy innovation economy, pioneering the offshore grid so that the energy comes ashore in one or two places, not via 10 substations, in turn creating opportunities for green hydrogen hubs and local leadership on the path to Net Zero via a digital energy ‘Smart Grid’.
“This is an opportunity to build a whole new industry here in the East. We should seize it.”
His constituency neighbour, Jerome Mayhew, Conservative MP for Broadland, adds that “the UK is the world’s largest market for the development and deployment of offshore wind, and work is already well underway right across the United Kingdom to cement this position”.
Speaking in relation to East Anglia, he says that “Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas are expected to start generating power from the mid-2020s and once commissioned will meet 10pc of the UK’s domestic electricity needs”. With the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk already having 52% of all the wind farms in the country, he notes that “offshore wind projects like these are essential to ensure that we can maintain a reliable supply of electricity, continue our world leading emissions reductions and focus on the supply chain and job opportunities this project will bring to East Anglia”.
While we have the experience and technology advantage now, the UK risks losing that position if we don’t seek to actively maintain and strengthen our current lead
Mary Glindon, Labour MP for North Tyneside, is similarly optimistic about the opportunities presented by offshore wind O&M – as well as the environmental benefits.
“Our fast-growing offshore wind industry is a matter of great pride and economic importance for my constituency of North Tyneside and the wider North East,” she says. “We have a natural advantage in landing wind power that adds to our sustainable mix of energy, encourages new technologies, research, and services that can power the UK in the global market, and boosts quality and skilled jobs to boot.
“All these are serious contributions to tackling climate change and earning vital revenues, which can drive much needed economic growth and fund our public services.”
With many of his own constituents employed in the energy sector, Scottish National Party MP for Gordon, Richard Thomson also recognises the opportunity offshore wind O&M represents.
“Offshore wind in particular is a rapidly maturing industry,” he says. “A greater focus on domestic manufacture of offshore wind technologies can put Scotland, especially the North East of Scotland, at the forefront of the global market. Our enormous base of subsea skills places us in an exceptionally strong position to harness the benefits of that shift towards renewables."
A few hundred miles down the coast from Gordon is Grimsby, where the ORE Catapult’s Operations and Maintenance Centre of Excellence (OMCE) is situated. Based in the largest offshore wind O&M port in the world, the OMCE is a focal point for innovation and demonstration in the industry. Quoted in the ORE Catapult report, the OMCE’s General Manager, Ben George, reiterates the need for policy and investment that supports the UK’s ability to seize commercial opportunities in offshore wind O&M.
“UK leadership in these emerging areas is not a given, as the rest of the world seeks to catch up to the UK as quickly as possible,” George says. “While we have the experience and technology advantage now, the UK risks losing that position if we don’t seek to actively maintain and strengthen our current lead.”
Commenting on the findings of the ORE Catapult report and growth of the UK offshore wind sector, Energy Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said:
“Our world-leading offshore wind sector is not only helping us meet our bold climate change commitments, it is delivering regional growth all over the UK as we continue to onshore manufacturing, attract private capital and create thousands of high-skilled jobs.
“Thanks to £160 million government funding, our two new centres of offshore wind manufacturing on the Humber and Teesside will see 6,000 jobs created, and our North Sea Transition Deal lays out how workers can transfer key skills into the jobs that offshore wind is providing.
“We have committed to growing local supply chains in the offshore wind sector and it’s good to see workers in the UK directly benefitting from opportunities as we boost skills and drive local economic growth.”
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