Cornwall and the south west of England could become a centre of excellence for developing floating offshore wind, advocates of the technology have argued, and consent is being sought for the Wave Hub there to test floating wind technology.
That is the ambition of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which has developed a strategy to promote the region as an ideal location for floating windfarms that could generate energy miles offshore and not be visible from land.
LEP marine and energy lead Steve Jermy, who is also chairman of the Marine Offshore Renewables Group in the south west, said “The emerging floating offshore wind industry could do for the south west what fixed offshore wind has done for the east of the country, transforming communities, creating hundreds of jobs and making a vital contribution to the UK’s low carbon energy mix.”
Most of the offshore wind deployment until now has been restricted to the shallow waters of the Irish Sea and the southern North Sea, with depths less than 50 m. But last year the world’s first commercial floating offshore windfarm, Hywind Scotland, opened in 129 m of water 15 miles off the Aberdeenshire coast. Its majority owner, Norwegian energy giant Equinor, believes it could deploy in depths of 800 m. It said the windfarm has exceeded performance expectations.
It is estimated that up to 80% of world’s potential offshore wind sites are located in waters more than 60 m deep, which is the limit for conventional offshore wind turbines fixed to the seabed. This means the international floating offshore wind market is significantly larger than that of fixed offshore wind.
“The ideal British sea areas with depths to deploy floating offshore wind are off the coasts of the south west, Wales and Scotland,” said the LEP, which has developed a floating offshore wind strategy that envisages early deployment of a pilot floating offshore wind array of around 36 MW, followed by pre-commercial arrays of 100 MW and then early commercial arrays of 500 MW, with an overall target of 1 GW by 2030.
“The south west, together with Scotland, is already one of the world’s two leading wave and tidal energy regions, with offshore operations experience, a network of world-class marine research institutions, world-class test and evaluation facilities such as Wave Hub, and a Marine Enterprise Zone offering incentives for investing in offshore renewable businesses skills,” said Mr Jermy. “All of this is immediately portable into the nascent floating offshore wind sector.”
A 30-day consultation period for a consent application started on 8 November 2018 that could see the diversification of the Wave Hub to permit floating wind as well as wave energy to be tested there.
The aim of what is essentially a Section 36 consent application is to install and operate up to four floating wind turbines or hybrid wind/wave generating devices with a maximum generating capacity of 40 MW. It is thought that a decision will be reached on the matter by the end of 2018.
“We are engaging with government, the Crown Estate and the Marine Management Organisation to develop a project pipeline for the deployment of at least 1 GW of floating offshore wind in the south west by 2030.
The LEP, which drives growth and job creation in its area, has identified renewable energy as a key economic opportunity for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. As part of this initiative, it has met with UK Energy Minister Claire Perry to discuss the potential for floating offshore wind in the region.
The LEP believes the south west’s floating offshore wind strategy has the potential to realise three key opportunities. First, to deliver subsidy-free clean renewable power to the region by 2030; second, to bring to the region the jobs and economic growth that fixed offshore wind has brought the east of England; and third, to position Britain as a world-leader in an international market that is rapidly growing and likely to be much larger than fixed offshore wind.
“This isn’t pie in the sky stuff,” said Mr Jermy, who is seeking policy support to provide private sector confidence to invest. He said some form of transitional pump-priming revenue support will be needed, as was the case with fixed offshore wind. “This in turn can help drive private investment in research and development to reduce the costs of deployment and stimulate deployment at scale, allowing us to learn by doing offshore, and quickly reduces costs to the consumer,” he said.
“Government transitional revenue support for fixed offshore wind has driven just such a virtuous circle. With the right support, there is no reason why floating wind cannot achieve similar or even greater economies of scale, and even lower prices than fixed offshore wind. And potentially more quickly, given that we can learn from our fixed offshore wind experience, and also leverage Britain’s world-leading skills in tidal and wave energy.
“The south west is an ideal geographical location to help pioneer a British floating wind industry, thanks to three key advantages. We have the offshore wind resource, water depth, sea space, capabilities, skill and port infrastructure that could support the commercial deployment of floating windfarms by 2030, building a strong base for local delivery, and for broader export to the rest of the UK and internationally. “Floating offshore wind will be one of our flagship local energy initiatives as we develop our local Industrial Strategy,” he concluded.