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Fri, 27 November 2020

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The Prime Minister’s pledge of more wind power needs a proper plan

The Prime Minister’s pledge of more wind power needs a proper plan

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4 min read

Ports must be readied, cabling put in place and the whole supply chain secured and supported if we’re to ramp up our renewable energy. Firm action is needed, and fast

Boris Johnson has promised that offshore wind will generate enough electricity to power every UK home by 2030, achieved by building 40GW of offshore wind farms by that date.

Like many such statements this is gilded with some hyperbole – even adding 40GW more offshore wind to the 10GW we have at the moment won’t get to 50% of our installed generating capacity by 2030. So no, offshore will not by itself power every home, but it is still a very welcome commitment to doing the right thing with renewables.

We must accelerate the building and deployment of renewable energy if the energy and power sector is to have a chance of meeting net zero target requirements. Rapidly ramping up offshore wind as one of our key renewable energy components is a key way to do it.

A number of commentators have been sceptical about the target. It can’t be done in that timescale, they say; but it clearly can. It’s a substantial uprating of our capacity, but the sites are there, the manufacturing and supply chain capacity is emerging, and investment is ready to be applied. It can be done, provided the path to deployment is properly secured and supported.

And that is where a few question marks pop up. Does the government understand that a great deal of work needs to be done, quickly, to make the result possible in the timescale envisaged?

We need to consider how the power from this huge new wind fleet will be landed

Ports need to be prepared to act as bases for fabrication, assembly and erection. If we are to achieve the 60% British content of this new wind industry projected to be in place by 2030, we must prepare and support the whole supply chain – that means blades, gears, mountings, development of support and supply vessels, to mention just some of the key links in the chain.

And we need to consider how the power from this huge new wind fleet will be landed. Presently, each offshore windfarm lands its power and supplies it to the grid individually and through its own cable and shore-based receiving station. This ‘point to point’ arrangement might have been appropriate in the early days but it’s inappropriate now and will not serve to accommodate the huge landing operation that 40GW entails.

We will need joint oversized cables serving a number of farms, possibly facilitated at sea by island nodes connecting farms together, before landing takes place. That in itself is a major infrastructure challenge, probably beyond each individual windfarm to engineer.

All we have so far to reinforce the announcement is the indication that £160m may be available over a period of 10 years to help ports develop capacity. That, most agree, is way off what will be required to ensure ports are ready for the challenge; perhaps more like £900m will be needed. And that doesn’t cover support for cabling and landing, or investment in the supply chain on land to make it secure.

The bottom line is, unless investment in making it work takes place well before we reach 2030, it simply won’t happen. And we cannot afford such a major component of our renewable programme to fail.

Investment by government in the infrastructure supporting our offshore ambitions is essential and will repay itself many times over in the years to come, but it has to be on the table early.

My concern is that we have been swept along with the ambition without properly accounting for the means to achieve it. We need to see a lot more flesh on the bone of that investment before we can feel confident that 40GW will be a reality in 2030.

 

Alan Whitehead is the Labour MP for Southampton Test and shadow minister for Energy and the Green New Deal

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