The developers behind the Erebus floating wind project off the coast of Wales believe it will play a key role in developing the supply chain in the region. Similar projects on a larger scale could see ports in the region evolve in the way Aberdeen became an oil hub, they say
At first sight, the joint project between Simply Blue Energy and oil major Total to develop a 96-MW floating windfarm in the waters of the Celtic Sea offshore the coast of Wales might look like another floating wind demonstration project, albeit an important one given its size, location and Total’s decision to invest in offshore wind.
The Erebus project, to be developed by the companies under a joint venture known as Blue Gem Wind, certainly represents a big step towards realising the very significant electricity-generating capacity in the Celtic Sea, recently estimated by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult to be as much as 50 GW.
But as Simply Blue Energy managing director Sam Roch-Perks and the company’s director of policy and strategy Christoph Harwood tell OWJ in an exclusive interview, it is about much more than demonstrating technology: it is a highly important step towards establishing a supply chain for floating wind in the region, without which commercial-scale projects would be impossible, but with which a new industry could evolve to rival that in the oil and gas sector.
Simply Blue Energy was established in 2011, primarily to develop wave energy projects, but as it became clear that wave energy was likely to take longer to come to fruition than originally anticipated, it pivoted towards offshore wind, and floating wind in particular. To do so, it turned to Principle Power, developer of the WindFloat semi-submersible floating foundation.
“Until recently, the southwest has been the poor relation in terms of investment in offshore wind,” Mr Roch-Perks tells OWJ. “But the Celtic Sea is a huge marine space that has fantastic potential for floating wind and other forms of renewable energy. A lot of the focus on floating wind in the UK has been on Scotland, but we thought, why not the southwest too?
“In the Celtic Sea you need floating wind because of the water depths. We looked at it and it was clear that we have the resource. We also have a grid connection. The opportunity in the region is vast. What the southwest does not yet have is a supply chain, but that will come. Erebus will be an important stepping-stone in developing the supply chain in the region, as will other projects like it.
“Together with Total, we will progress the first of what we see as a number of stepping-stone projects that will allow the local supply chain to build up its capability to help deliver larger projects that will be developed for the 2030s. It is like being in Aberdeen in the 1960s, except from Pembroke we look out onto a sea that can deliver wind energy, helping the UK reach its 2050 net zero target.”
As part of Blue Gem Wind, Simply Blue Energy has been engaging with the local supply chain around the Celtic Sea to help them be ready to take part in this development. The target commissioning date is for the mid-2020s and will be subject to the availability of suitable revenue support as described in Renewable UK’s recent report Floating Wind, the UK Industry Ambition published in October 2019.
Simply Blue Energy was represented on the task force that drew up the report and as Mr Roch-Perks notes, the opportunity the Celtic Sea represents has been given a lift by the launch, on 2 March 2020, of the UK Government’s consultation on amendments to the contract for difference scheme (CfD), which made significant proposals on how it will support this new sector. That consultation proposes that floating offshore wind be recognised as a separate technology, with a ‘floating offshore wind CfD unit,’ defined as consisting entirely of floating turbines. It would then be possible in future auctions to set a framework that effectively reserved part of the budget to such units, or at least ensured they were not in direct competition with low-cost fixed bottom developments.
As UK Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart put it when the deal to develop the Erebus project with Total was announced, “the development of a floating offshore wind project in Welsh waters could bring investment to the west of Wales and generate hundreds of high-quality jobs. Projects such as these will form the backbone of a prosperous low-carbon economy and will be powered by Welsh ingenuity and innovation.”
The Erebus project will also have an important connection with the Pembroke Dock Marine project, which will see £60M (US$74M) in investment brought to southwest Wales and help boost the capacities and capabilities of Welsh companies in the marine and green energy sectors. Simply Blue Energy has established an office in Pembroke to work with the local supply chain on the opportunities created by this project.
Mr Roch-Perks and Mr Harwood say the potential of the Celtic Sea is especially significant given that the Committee on Climate Change suggests the UK will need at least 75 GW of operating offshore wind capacity to reach the net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050. It is estimated by the ORE Catapult that the first GW in the Celtic Sea could potentially deliver 3,000 jobs and £682M (US$843M) in supply chain opportunities for Wales and Cornwall over the next 10 years. That spend could increase to £1.24Bn (US$1.60Bn) if there is further investment in manufacturing facilities for mooring chains and cables, and port infrastructure to enable turbine substructure fabrication locally, rather than final assembly alone.
“We were keen to find a partner for the project and in Total we think we have found an ideal one,” says Mr Roch-Perks. “It brings its balance sheet and experience in offshore oil and gas and they have a decades-long understanding of the technical and safety challenges involved in developing a project like this.”
Erebus will be installed approximately 45 km offshore in a water depth of around 70 m. Subject to securing finance it should be in the water around the mid-2020s.
Mr Roch-Perks and Mr Harwood say it is too early to say which turbine and what capacity the one selected for Erebus might have, but they highlighted that the WindFloat foundation is inherently scalable. “No one has done a 12-MW turbine yet on a floater,” says Mr Roch-Perks. “The turbines will be selected during the development process, but by the mid-2020s when we get onto the water, who knows how big the turbines might be.”
The company has already secured a grid connection in Pembrokeshire and has already undertaken initial surveys. If all goes according to plan, Mr Roch-Perks says, the aim is to bid for a contract for difference sometime between 2023 and 2025 and build out the supply chain via the Erebus project and others like it, in order to be in a position to develop GW-scale projects in the 2030s.