Scaling up offshore wind generation and learning lessons from earlier projects could help Wales meet its renewable energy and decarbonisation targets and deliver local economic stimulus, says a new report
The report, Future Potential for Offshore Wind in Wales, produced by the Carbon Trust for the Welsh Government, delivers a series of recommendations to policymakers to capitalise on the clean growth potential of offshore windfarms.
Currently, 48% of Welsh energy consumption is supplied from renewable technology. The report estimates that an additional 2 GW of offshore wind power could be delivered by just 2-3 projects in Wales, contributing over two-thirds of Wales’ 70% renewable energy target by 2030 and putting Wales on course to achieve its carbon reduction goal of at least 80% by 2050.
Wales is a strategically important net exporter of power to the UK grid, generating more than double the electricity it consumes. Historically most of this energy generation has been based on fossil fuels. However, the combination of an ageing coal and gas fleet, and introducing ambitious decarbonisation targets, is opening opportunities for cost-competitive clean energy industries, like offshore wind.
Despite limited offshore wind activity in recent years, new seabed leasing and site extensions administered by The Crown Estate are set to open new opportunities for offshore wind development in Wales and add to existing capacity at the North Hoyle, Rhyl Flats and at Gwynt-y-Môr offshore windfarms.
Relatively shallow waters off North Wales, in particular, are expected to be attractive for near-term development, while deeper waters off Pembrokeshire hold considerable long-term potential for floating offshore wind technology.
In addition to achieving clean energy targets, offshore wind has the potential to deliver considerable investment and associated socio-economic benefits to Wales. Harnessing its natural resources could also leverage Wales’ rich maritime and industrial heritage to create opportunities for Welsh businesses, particularly for windfarm operation and maintenance. With sufficient market volume, Wales could also attract major overseas suppliers to establish local manufacturing facilities, as exemplified by a recent investment decision from Prysmian to supply submarine cable cores from its facility in Wrexham.
The report outlines a series of key recommendations to government to improve the attractiveness of projects in Wales for inward investment. This includes actively engaging with The Crown Estate and prospective developers to help secure new leases in Welsh waters, working with developers and the local supply chain to increase the level of Welsh content, and derisking the development process through participation in industry-wide initiatives to address consenting barriers.
Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths said, “We realise the potential of offshore wind to help Wales meet its decarbonisation targets and renewable energy targets.
Carbon Trust manager Rhodri James said, “Having initially pioneered offshore wind development with the UK’s first commercial windfarm at North Hoyle in 2004, a limited project pipeline has constrained opportunities for Wales in recent years.
“However, upcoming site extensions and seabed leasing will create new opportunities for Wales to harness its abundant offshore wind resource to deliver clean, renewable power to consumers. If projects can be secured, they could play a pivotal role in meeting Wales and the UK’s renewable energy and decarbonisation goals, as well as create economic benefits for local businesses and communities.”
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.
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. 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 Welsh Government could also 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. Investing in infrastructure upgrades and providing 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.
Given that mechanisms are already in place in the UK to support utility-scale projects, the Welsh Government could have greater impact by providing financial support for innovative technology that currently does not have a route to market, including floating offshore wind.
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 deployment level 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 significant offshore wind construction in North Wales, the authors of the report noted, which would result in significant 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 and be public in supporting future deployment.
Failed projects highlights need to select most suitable sites
Despite the success of the three operational projects in the Irish Sea, offshore wind development in Wales has also suffered setbacks, most notably through the cancellation of three projects, Scarweather Sands (2009); Atlantic Array, (2013); and Celtic Array (2014).
“These cancelled projects serve as important lessons to policymakers and industry players in identifying and selecting the most suitable sites for offshore wind development,” said the authors of the report.
“Future licensing rounds can benefit from considerable experience from nearly 8 GW of installed capacity and the availability of more advanced technology that can unlock new sites in Welsh waters.
“Nevertheless, understanding and selecting sites with favourable environmental conditions, access to sufficient grid transmission capacity, support from local stakeholder groups, and adopting a more flexible approach to site selection will be critical to ensuring the success of future development activities,“ they concluded.