The RenewableUK Ports & Vessels 2021 webinar series continues on 15 April with a session dedicated to future port requirements for offshore wind construction. In this blog, we speak to panel member Andy Reay, Group Head of Commercial Offshore Wind for Associated British Ports (ABP), to get some background information ahead of next week’s webinar.
Key for the offshore wind sector right now is to maximise the potential of existing assets. As not all construction activity must happen in the same port, it is possible to utilise a cluster of ports that each focus on different aspects of construction. For example, one can be dedicated to turbine installation, another to providing foundation installations, or cable installations. The Humber Estuary offers significant potential to create a cluster across several ports that cover all required activities within close geographical proximity to offshore wind farms. It is perfectly positioned to support projects along the entire East coast of the UK in the coming years.
With regards to floating offshore wind, there is massive potential off the South coast of Wales – perhaps up to 50GW would be achievable for floating and fixed bottom offshore wind farms combined. It is even more important that construction ports are closely located to these structures, which need to be towed to their final position once built. There is the chance to develop a cluster of ports on the South/South West coast of Wales to support the growth of offshore wind farms in the Celtic Sea in a similar way that the Humber Estuary supports the UK’s East coast. The Crown Estate’s recent announcement regarding auctions for seabed rights in the Celtic Sea is very encouraging. The next step is to commence development of supporting infrastructure. There is a window of opportunity to take advantage of this, bringing the entire supply chain and all associated economic benefits within the UK, rather than projects being supported by other European countries.
The greatest challenge for these projects – like many others around the world – is ensuring optimal timing and size of investment. Not only is the cost of port development substantial, but securing investment often requires a pipeline of projects that demonstrate the long-term potential and success of a site. Ports need 20 to 50-year investments and to provide this, investors need to see an ongoing potential for return.
This barrier has been somewhat overcome for the Humber, given the £75 million investment recently announced by BEIS as part of the OWMIS, designed to accelerate growth of ports to support the OSW manufacturing supply chain. For floating offshore wind, the situation is slightly different because the projects are still being designed and therefore the pipeline does not yet exist. However, in order for the UK to realise their potential and secure the supply chain, we will need to build the infrastructure before demand grows. Getting the timing of this investment right – prior to certainty of the market – will be difficult but possible by working with developers, companies across the supply chain and the Government.
Close collaboration between all parties contributing to the supply chain will also help overcome any concerns resulting from the delay in planning consent for developments. Though reasons for these delays include pandemic restrictions, the successful investment in the UK OSW sector to date has been in part based on the safety of the UK planning and consenting environment, so we need to maintain this for the future. There is also the question about whether further development would be advantageous in certain areas. For instance, is there enough long-term need to justify more investment and infrastructure on the East coast, or would it be more beneficial to switch our attention to floating markets and the West coast? This is something the industry will need to consider in due course. For now, it’s up to us all to work together and make the most of opportunities available in offshore wind.
For more information about ABP’s ports, which specialise in supporting the offshore wind sector, click here.