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Is Government going to deliver the Secretary of State’s net zero vision, or commit one of the biggest blunders in energy for a decade? Why we should be watching floating offshore wind this year.

For all the Telegraph wrote up the DESNZ Secretary’s recent speech as ‘the Government going cold on net zero’ – if you read the substance on it, Claire makes a compelling argument in favour of decarbonisation. It’s essentially, “it’s far more impactful for the UK to develop cheap clean technologies that help countries across the world decarbonise at pace and scale, than focus on squeezing the very last of the UK’s carbon emissions at great cost to the country”. After all, only 30% of global electricity comes from renewables – we do need to turn the dial globally. 


For me, there is one test of whether the Government is true to its word on this strategy – and that’s what happens in this year’s floating offshore wind auction.  


The UK has been a world leader in floating wind to date, boasting the world’s first test and demonstration projects in Scotland – Hywind and Kincardine offshore wind farms. This technology is set to be a gamechanger for wind energy, enabling us to build wind farms in the deeper, windier waters shown in green on the map below, as opposed to being restricted to the (relatively) shallow waters (in red and yellow) where fixed-bottom wind farms have been built to date. 


To the Secretary of State’s point – if the UK can help drive down the costs of floating wind, making it a cost competitive technology, we will have enabled the development of floating wind farms in the swathes of other countries whose offshore wind ambitions are currently restricted by the deep seas around them. It is not hard to find power-hungry countries in this situation. Japan, one of the world’s largest economies, is famously surrounded by deep sea trenches. The powerful winds off the Cape of Good Hope which have scuppered sailors for centuries could be harnessed for the good of South Africa. California. Brazil. France. The list is enormous, and mapped in detail by the UN, who’ve shown the potential for thousands of floating turbines globally. 


The opportunity to show leadership in floating wind is absolutely in the hands of the UK Government. At 33GW, we have the largest pipeline of floating wind projects with a confirmed lease in the world – more than double the capacity of the offshore wind we have built to date - and, critically for this Government, we have four ‘shovel ready’ projects which could be confirmed this year. The success or failure of this year’s clean power auction (Contract for Difference Allocation Round 6) rests on the Government increasing the budget for floating offshore wind from £95 million – which would only enable one of the four floating wind projects to go ahead - to £394 million which would ensure we unlocked investment in all of them. 


And to be clear, it would also be entirely in the self-interest of the UK to do this. The UK is in a global race to develop floating wind components and expertise – which is why the recently published Offshore Wind Industrial Growth Plan highlighted floating foundations as a priority focus for UK industrial strategy.  


If the UK fully grasps the industrial opportunity by maximising investment in projects, upgrading our ports and encouraging innovation, it’s expected that floating offshore wind alone could support 45,000 jobs by 2040 and boost UK GVA by £26.6bn. Critically, this economic growth is well distributed across the UK. It is unsurprising that two of the four floating wind projects which the Government could bring forward this year are in Scottish waters (Pentland and Green Volt wind farms), another is off the coast of Blyth in the North East of England (Blyth Wind Farm), and the other is nestled in the Celtic Sea, off the coast of Wales and the South West (Eberus wind farm). These are all going to be the future hubs which service a much greater development of floating wind in due course. It’s in the UK’s interest to kick start that investment today, to ensure these companies get ahead in the global race, and are thus able to capture more of the global market in due course. 


And if that isn’t enough – it is in the interest of billpayers for Government to unlock private investment in these smaller early projects. It gives the sector an opportunity to learn-from-doing, innovate, and understand how projects could be delivered at a lower cost before we go on to build much bigger projects in coming decade. 


And it wouldn’t all be jam tomorrow. Government estimates suggest that these projects could unlock £1.8bn in capital investment alone. 


But again, I re-iterate, this will only happen if the Government increases the budget for this years Contract for Difference Allocation Round this summer. And if our aim is to maximise the industrial benefits of floating wind, this should be coupled with consultation on a revenue support scheme to unlock investment in around 4-6 ports for manufacturing and another 5-7 to help piece together the wind turbines themselves. 


I’m old enough to remember a time, long ago, before he was an Energy Minister, when Andrew Bowie was the Conservative Environment Network’s ‘Floating Wind Champion’. He’s remained a stalwart champion of renewables in Government. But before the next election, I’d encourage him - and other like minded MPs from all parties - to push the extra mile, and make the ambitions honed in the various meeting rooms of Portcullis House a reality – and prove to the electorate months before the next election that the Conservatives really can deliver on the promise it offers. 

By Nathan Bennett, Director of Strategic Communications, RenewableUK



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