On 15th March 2023, RenewableUK held its second Ports & Vessels conference to facilitate discussion of the challenges and opportunities in the context of delivering critical offshore wind targets in the next decades. The event had a national focus for the UK, but was held in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England, itself a hotbed for the large scale infrastructure and manufacturing investment which will characterise the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Alex Fowler and Johnny Love attended the event in their capacity as members of the RenewableUK shadow board and are pleased to report back with their key learnings and insights
The event actually started one evening before the main conference with a drinks reception held at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts. The chilly conditions outside could not dampen spirits in the room as lively discussions ensued, new connections formed and old acquaintances reestablished. The evening set the tone for the collaborative space which was central leading into the event.
The main conference kicked off in fine style with a keynote speech from RenewableUK Commercial Director Vicky Mant. During her speech, Vicky unveiled the excellent new report “Industry Roadmap 2040: Building UK Port Infrastructure to Unlock the Floating Wind Opportunity”, by the Floating Wind Offshore Wind Taskforce outlining the scale of the challenge and investment needed to unlock the huge potential in floating wind and maintain the UK lead position. More on that later!
With both our experiences being working almost exclusively on fixed bottom wind turbines to date, it’s incredible to think that 80% of the global wind capacity is in deeper waters where floating technologies will be required. We heard some tremendous numbers, for example, there is potential for 34GW of floating wind in UK waters by 2040. Floating wind represents a £26 billion opportunity for the UK but to unlock it will require a £4 billion investment. That sounds like a good return on investment, but of course the key is who will foot the bill to unlock this revenue. The opening panel discussion featured representatives from the Port of Tyne, Equinor, Siemens Gamesa and the Department of Net Zero and Energy Security. We learnt that 11 ports will need to be transformed into industrial hubs across the UK to deliver on the pipeline anticipated for floating wind.
Through the day there were a few themes which formed a golden thread.
1. Undoubtedly, the first was collaboration.
It was really interesting to hear how for projects being developed as part of the massive ScotWind auction, there are several examples of traditional competitive boundaries being eroded as companies find more space to collaborate and pool knowledge and ideas.
There was a clear request from port owners to have more information and crucially earlier visibility of upcoming projects, even when they are only at early-stage development. This will enable better planning and a focus on longer term strategic decision making, rather than short term decisions that secure revenue but reduce capacity for developing infrastructure for renewable energy within key ports.
The desire for more information on component sizes for next generation wind turbines as early as possible was clear and led to a lively discussion, particularly pertinent to Alex, working for a large wind OEM!
This aspect was clear to see on the vessel focused panel sessions as well, with presentations shared showing the huge strides being made towards decarbonisation of offshore wind vessels, made possible by the collaborative projects supporting electrification and use of alternate, green fuels.
2. Huge regional opportunities especially for Scotland, North East England and the Celtic Sea area.
It is clear from the discussions throughout the day that the opportunities for key UK regions are significant. On the North East in particular, Alex shared his thoughts, saying:
“To focus on my home region of North East England, we heard a great example of this collaboration at Dogger Bank, my local offshore windfarm and the largest in the world! I was particularly excited to hear we will soon be seeing the new build service operation vessels as part of the North Star Renewables fleet arriving into the mouth of the River Tyne where I will be eagerly watching as a local resident! Equally as exciting will be the arrival of the huge jack-up vessel the “Voltaire” in Teesside this summer with a view to commencement of installation of the first Haliade-X 13MW GE wind turbines. The sense of excitement and pride to see the North East at the heart of this is palpable.”
3. Who foots the bill! This was always going to be a key question and perhaps unsurprisingly the answer is not fully clear.
What was great to hear however was the different ideas flowing through. The conference coincided with UK budget day, as if to emphasise the pressure on public finances currently. It is clear that government grants cannot be relied upon to provide all of the required investment.
It was really encouraging to hear about schemes such as the Offshore Wind Manufacturing Investment Scheme helping to enable the supply chain, and the successes of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition. This initiative funded by the Department for Transport is helping to accelerate the adoption of electric power and clean fuels as viable alternatives to marine diesel. The competition is producing tangible results with offshore wind Crew Transfer Vessels and Service Operation Vessels key targets, with wider support vessels and survey fleets options too.
When polled on the best future fuel, the audience produced no clear winner, though the panelists suggested the ‘best’ option is the one that best suits the scenario, taking into account the potential challenges of storage, air quality, supply chains and cost. On the last point on cost, it was emphasised that whilst there is a premium to pay for green fuels today, this is expected to fall sharply over time.
The government is also exploring non-price factors for the latest round of CfD,recognising the importance of strategic thinking and supply chain content, which is important as well as lowering the price of energy.
Lastly, it was cool to hear about other busines models such as the Port of Esbjerg in Denmark, a municipality port where public funding is used to enable the infrastructure investments required to prepare for large scale renewable energy projects.
We both left the Conference (for the refreshingly short journey home for Alex!) feeling quite inspired. The scale of the opportunity in floating wind as well as the vital role of ports and vessels within that is clear. The clean energy revolution in the UK is well underway but this conference really highlighted we are still in the early miles of a marathon. With bold policy from government, collaboration across the supply chain and a relentless focus on innovation, the investment needed to ensure the UK is a clean energy superpower can become reality. The promise of high skilled jobs, regenerating communities and attracting a diverse range of talent to our industry is motivation to play the best roles that we can in the race to clean, affordable and secure energy!
See RenewableUK's full list of events for the year here.
About RenewableUK’s Shadow Board
In addition to the main Board, RenewableUK has set up a Shadow Board to provide a wider range of views on key issues to Board Members. They provide valuable insights and fresh perspectives. RenewableUK provides this opportunity to Shadow Board members to help develop their careers.
The Shadow Board members represent companies from every part of the renewable energy sector. It brings expertise across a broad range of areas such as: electrical engineering, project management, law, marketing, asset management, business development, supply chain development, environmental management and public affairs.
About the Authors
Alex Fowler, Head of Offshore Service Sales – Aftermarket, Siemens Gamesa
Alex has worked with Siemens Gamesa for almost a decade. His role is focused on delivering operation and maintenance solutions for offshore windfarms across the world. He is also responsible for aftermarket sales including modifications and upgrades, emote services and spare parts sales. The experience as Vice Chair of the RUK Shadow Board has been one of the most enjoyable and transformative of his career so far. Alex loves running (see marathon reference in the article!), reading and spending quality time with the family on the coast of Whitley Bay. It should be noted he is a big Middlesbrough football club fan, a source of much discussion with this conference held in the heart of local rivals Newcastle!
Johnny Love, Senior Project Manager, Offshore Wind Consultants
Johnny joined Offshore Wind Consultants (OWC) in 2022 where he supports OWC’s global portfolio of projects by performing Owner’s Engineering and Technical Due Diligence roles, drawing on experience of offshore wind project management, operations & maintenance, technology innovation and supply chain support. Johnny hugely values the RUK Shadow Board opportunity, rarely missing an opportunity to share the ‘ins and outs’ of his role with others. He is based in the Humber, a key region for offshore wind in the UK, and one that is making vital contributions to UK efforts towards NetZero. He loves a project outside of work too, with DIY projects almost always on the go!