Seizing the opportunity, how turbines will form part of our COVID-19 recovery

In the UK, wind represents a success story on the path to Net-Zero and one of the greatest opportunities to reach this goal by 2050. Across Europe, wind energy now makes up 15% of the EU’s electricity. Recent months have seen a return for onshore wind being eligible to participate in CfD competitions. The growth of the floating wind market is now central to discussions as a viable alternative to conventional arrays.

However, the reach of COVID-19 will not escape the sector, with supply chains suffering lockdowns and impacts to manufacturing and plunges in forex rates beginning to hamper propositions in the coming months. Organisations will need to communicate their messages clearly, with authenticity and passion to be heard in this post-COVID recovery. Most companies supplying the UK with materials are from outside of the country and are mainly based in Europe and China. In 2019, €19bn was raised for the construction of new wind farms in Europe, 24% less than in 2018. Given the impact of COVID-19, we may have to revise our expectations in the coming years.

I believe though that the wind sector is in good shape despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s why.

High public acceptability

There is growing acceptability of offshore wind among key stakeholders. In recent Government polling, 81% of the population supported offshore wind and this sentiment has held steady over recent years. This attitude has largely been down to wind assets’ growing presence off our shores and public awareness growing alongside recognition of the importance of Net-Zero on the Government’s agenda.

Further projects are being approved and three major schemes are awaiting Development Consent Orders with the Planning Inspectorate due to confirm decisions by early June of the Thanet Extension, Hornsea 3 and Norfolk Vanguard sites.

However, some stakeholders retain an entrenched position, including US President Donald Trump who maintains the view of a “monstrous” wind project destroying the view of “perhaps the greatest golf course anywhere in the world” (which happens to be his Trump International Links Course). The ensuing legal challenge has resulted in Mr Trump being ordered to pay £250,000 to the Scottish Government.

With new emerging technologies and licencing rounds, developers will need to continue engaging with communities and stakeholders to inform and educate residents around proposals in order to mobilise support and consent for projects. Developers can’t take stakeholder sentiment at a local and national level for granted – authentic and compelling engagements at key stage gates for projects help to bring stakeholders on the journey.

A golden opportunity for the UK

With the Crown Estate launching the next round of the wind leasing competition, we will likely see around 7GW of capacity awarded in new seabed rights. If fully exploited, this would nearly double offshore power output in the UK. This represents more than twice the amount of energy that will be generated by the upcoming Hinkley Point C nuclear plant – enough to power over 6 million homes. Wind is now starting to play an increasing role in each of our daily lives.

With each new project, developers will need to create a clear narrative and benefit case to justify the disruption to the communities around their proposed sites. One impactful way to do this is through virtual reality and rich media content. These methods can create vibrant learning environments that consultation and stakeholder engagement meetings have struggled to achieve.

European wind capacity rose by a third (15.2GW) in 2019 across Europe with the UK leading the way in the installation of 2.4GW followed by Spain, Sweden and France. Importantly, the increasing pace of UK wind deployment will form part of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda with potential supply chain benefits greatly boosting underperforming regions. Creating clusters of excellence around ports could result in long term economic benefits through development, operations and maintenance and then into decommissioning, which will enable a wide section of the energy sector to benefit from wind’s growth.

Innovating to further increase wind’s role in our energy system

Floating wind turbines offer a great opportunity for the UK given its leadership in offshore wind. The UK also needs floating wind given its tough Net-Zero climate targets. Floating wind installations offer greater cost competitiveness than conventional offshore wind arrays with less anchoring or pilling required to stabilise the turbines. Floating wind turbines increase the opportunities for onshore development with greater assembly onshore. These assets’ more mobile nature enables them to be moved further out to sea, where winds are steadier and stronger.

A single deep-sea floating turbine can produce up to 25MW of power per year, nearly seven times that of a traditional offshore turbine. Locating these arrays further out to sea also means that delicate ecosystems close to shore and communities concerned with noise can be better protected. However, there are still constraints around wind speed in highly volatile locations.

Roughly half of the world’s population lives within 125 miles of a coastline, placing demand close to offshore wind production locations. In the UK, the furthest we can be is 70 miles from the coast making short length cable runs for electricity transmission very attractive.

However, as Bruno Geschier, Chairman of the WFO Floating Wind Committee said on a recent Floating Wind webinar, work is still to be done to convince key stakeholders that floating wind is viable.

Geschier laid emphasis on Government Relations, policymaking and ensuring that developers set the right conditions to enable offshore wind to succeed. Engaging with government early, building clear areas of common understanding and then bringing stakeholders along on the journey of a project is key. Clear communications are central to enabling floating wind to achieve its goals.

Therefore, while COVID-19 will prove to be an obstacle to smooth sector growth, the overall prospects for wind in the UK remain positive. Week on week we are seeing developers seeking to mobilise supply chains and plough investment into coastal communities to support major arrays. It will be critical to ensure that the engagement, messaging and public face of these projects ensures support rather than creates voids where opposition can delay and disrupt projects.

Madano advises clients in the energy and infrastructure sectors adapting to the impacts of COVID-19 and transitioning to lower carbon operating models – if you’re interested in learning more please drop me or the team a line. You can also follow Madano on Twitter.

Email: [email protected]

Blog written by Andrew Turner, Senior Account Director, Madano (Energy and Environment).