RSK’s Climate Realities series explores the wide-ranging repercussions of the latest IPCC Reports across our global business. In this Insight, RSK Renewable Energy Director Mike Kelly explores the opportunity for offshore wind to contribute significantly to the UK’s response to the climate crisis and national energy demand.
We know that, to respond to the ongoing climate crisis, we need more renewable energy. Recent global events have further highlighted the urgency of a smoother and swifter transition to net zero. Many countries are hoping to meet their electricity decarbonisation targets in the timeframe of the next 10–15 years and will need to take radical action to boost renewable energy generation if they are to achieve their goals.
In April this year, the UK Government published its new energy security strategy, which placed the future focus on the development of offshore wind farms and set out a raft of new proposals for relaxing current planning laws and expediting their construction. It is hoped that this ambition will deliver up to 50 GW by 2030, including up to 5 GW of innovative floating wind, in the UK. This would equate to 50% of the UK’s renewable generation capacity being provided by wind power by 2030.
By prioritising the development of offshore wind in the UK, the strategy seeks to accelerate renewable energy production; this technology is increasingly making the greatest contribution to renewable energy generation in the UK. Given some of the controversies around the impact of new onshore wind farms, a move towards increasing offshore production capacity is likely to involve less local opposition, which can hinder progress through the approval process. Although not as cost-effective as onshore wind, offshore wind is a better option in terms of production capacity, as the conditions out at sea are generally more consistent and closer to optimal.
Although there are significant constraints to consider and overcome in the offshore environment, the areas available for the deployment of wind generation are vast and allow for development at a greater scale when compared with onshore development. This can enable the installation of higher numbers of bigger turbines that can further maximise energy generation. The strategy proposes amending the Planning Act 2008 to establish a fast-track consenting route for priority cases where quality standards are met so that the relevant Secretary of State can set shorter examination timescales. Further measures include setting out a blueprint for the whole system by the end of 2022 to identify the strategic infrastructure needed to deliver offshore wind by 2030.
One element that seems to be missing in the strategy is the consideration of how the UK could work collaboratively with other wind-power partners in the North Sea to really maximise and share energy production in this area. The UK was previously a member of the North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC) and part of the North Sea grid system but, post-Brexit, this is no longer the case. And although the energy strategy controversially looks to increase the exploitation of fossil fuel in the North Sea as a transitional measure, this is widely accepted to be an unsustainable solution for the longer term.
To complement the emphasis on offshore wind generation, the energy strategy should be recommending the development of a North Sea offshore grid for electricity from wind. This would have the capability to deliver electricity to mainland Europe from offshore turbines and, although it would require a great degree of cooperation with the EU, the UK’s potential position as the primary generator of offshore wind would ensure it is well placed to re-join the NSEC to develop a bespoke offshore grid. This would address the UK’s major issue of getting the power that it generates onto the grid fast enough and could easily see it not only meeting national energy requirements but generating a surplus.
By piping this surplus into the EU, the UK could cement its position as a European renewables powerhouse and help the transition away from Russian oil and gas and towards net zero. For any doubters, it should be remembered that Scotland is already able to produce more energy than it needs and supplies the rest of the UK. The winds of change are blowing; we just need to harness their power for the development of the renewable energy sector.