David Foxwell reflects on Wales’ limited role in the UK offshore wind energy industry and how the experience of Scotland might help boost investment there
Late last year saw a report published that outlined ways that Wales could attract investment in offshore wind.
Despite suffering from the lack of a project pipeline in recent years, site extensions and new leasing rounds administered by The Crown Estate will create opportunities for Wales to exploit its extensive offshore wind resource and attract new investment in Wales’ energy infrastructure.
The report identified a potential extension at Gwynt-y-Môr as a priority near-term opportunity for Wales and new leasing rounds in the UK of up to 7 GW that could open opportunities for new regions in Wales. North Wales and Anglesey have been shortlisted for proposed Round 4 leasing.
An area to the northeast of Anglesey, overlapping with the former 4.2-GW Celtic Array development zone, is expected to be attractive to offshore wind developers. A single project could add up to 1.5 GW of new capacity, lifting the total generation to 2.8 GW capacity, enough to meet 68% of Wales’ electricity consumption. Combined with existing onshore renewable capacity, this would contribute 82% by 2030, putting Wales on course to exceed its renewable energy and decarbonisation goals and building a pipeline of projects to meet more demanding targets beyond 2030. In the longer term, floating wind represents a significant potential opportunity to meet Wales’ longer-term energy targets.
The Scottish Government has long supported the offshore wind industry and its success in doing so provides some pointers as to how Wales could win a larger slice of the pie. Admittedly, Wales’ situation is a little different, in as much as seabed leasing in Scotland is in the hands of Crown Estate Scotland, whereas policy-making that affects the development of offshore wind in Wales takes place outside the country, at central UK bodies. Even so, the Welsh Government and affiliated bodies are consultees that can and should exert influence on UK decision-making.
So how might Wales go about developing more offshore wind capacity? To start with, the Welsh Government needs to be proactive in ensuring the country is fully represented in discussions relating to offshore wind development in the UK, with government and industry bodies. This should include cultivating market interest in development opportunities in Wales, in the same way that Scotland has and continues to do. Another way the authorities in Wales could help would be to publish clear guidance on the planning and consenting process for offshore wind projects.
The authorities in Scotland have long supported the offshore wind industry and have helped fund research projects and the development of innovative technology. So too could Wales. In like fashion, the Welsh Government should participate in and support collaborative initiatives to address common challenges, particularly research to inform siting and consenting decisions.
An effective and direct means of supporting developers and Welsh companies would be to invest in and support supply chain development, as has happened in Scotland. Investment in infrastructure upgrades and provision of greater support to SMEs would help to boost Welsh interest in the offshore wind sector, as would addressing consenting barriers and derisking project development in the country.
To date, the increase in UK content in offshore windfarms has been driven by activity outside Wales – not least because the lack of project development in Wales has constrained activity there – but there have been successes in some areas, most notably at the Port of Mostyn and in operations and maintenance contracts for local suppliers.
For the time being, Prysmian’s cable core facility in Wrexham is the only major Tier 1 supply facility in Wales, but that could change if the level of deployment increases. As the report noted, it could be difficult for Wales to attract suppliers of major components such as turbines, blades and foundations, but with greater scale opportunities undoubtedly exist in other areas, such as steel fabrication for foundations and towers.
If site extensions and new lease developments can be realised, this could unlock 2 GW of offshore wind construction in North Wales, which would result in up to 2.8 GW of capacity requiring operations and maintenance services, a level of activity that could create significant opportunities for supply chain clusters around Welsh ports.
Above all, policy-makers need to develop a clear strategy for offshore wind development in Wales, as has happened in Scotland, and be public in support of future deployment.
The Offshore Wind Journal Conference in London on 5 February 2019 will address key issues including global market developments, increasing turbine sizes, floating offshore wind and industry regulations. Book your place now.