Offshore specialist Emanuele Stella is an expert in the renewable energy industry, in particular the consenting and development process. With a track record of supporting offshore and onshore renewable projects across the UK in early concept, consent, construction and operational phases, he is currently ITPEnergised’s Head of Offshore Renewables.
Emanuele is a full member of IEMA and a Chartered Environmentalist and has extensive experience supporting large-scale infrastructure projects as a trusted advisor, as well as an international background in marine biology and aquatic resource management.
Emanuele sat down with Energy Digital to explore the top three challenges facing offshore wind farm developers trying to hit the UK Government’s ambitious 2030 targets.
What is the trilemma facing offshore wind farms trying to meet ambitious Government targets?
Offshore wind is booming in the UK, with a growing number of projects in the pipeline. The UK Government has set an ambitious target of delivering 50 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power by 2030 with 10% of this coming from innovative floating wind.
The British Energy Security Strategy (BESS), published last year, highlighted the UK's commitment to transitioning away from traditional fossil fuels and towards more renewable sources of energy. The strategy noted that offshore wind is a key part of the UK's plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
In March 2023, the Government announced its intention to legislate in order to deliver the Offshore Wind Environmental Improvement Package (OWEIP) to accelerate the deployment of offshore wind, reducing consenting time from up to four years to a single year, to support the UK in meeting its decarbonisation commitments.
However, whilst this legislative change might help the delivery of offshore wind in part, I believe we need to consider three major challenges that need to be overcome, if the offshore wind industry is to meet the Government’s targets.
These hurdles are
How are people a barrier to meeting offshore wind targets?
In short - resource. There are only a finite number of specialists in offshore wind (as well described in this article from Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) CATAPULT and this impact statement from Scottish Renewables), and no easy access to more talent with the knowledge and experience required across all the active geographic markets. For example, The European Union’s decision to build offshore wind farms not only off Poland, but also in the Mediterranean, is contributing to attracting further talent into mainland Europe and leaving the UK under-skilled and under-staffed.
With a limited number of skilled workers, and more projects than ever before, meeting the Government’s ambitious decarbonisation targets may prove challenging.
To try to combat this skills shortage, developers often work with consultancies with specialist knowledge in offshore wind and marine renewables, enabling them to access a pool of talent that can be flexed dependent on the stage of the project. Trying to level up the skill set within their own teams whilst trying to deliver major infrastructure projects and against tight deadlines is a tough balancing act and only serves to increase pressure on all parties, a result of which could be delays on the project.
Can you share with us the issues surrounding infrastructure, construction and manufacturing for offshore wind?
As projects move to the construction phase, the next roadblock appears. There is simply not the capacity for the levels of infrastructure and construction materials and equipment required. Significant investment is essential from the project developer, but also the Government needs to play a primary role in stimulating and supporting that investment.
However, there is much lower investment by the UK Government in the sector, compared to the EU, Asia and the United States. In the Spring 2023 budget the Government did not highlight how they were planning to ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place to build the 2GW of offshore wind that is currently in the pipeline. Overall, from an energy and infrastructure perspective, the Budget is evolutionary, not revolutionary. But it does lay the foundations for progress on some key issues and in some key sectors (Carbon Capture & Storage and Nuclear) for UK energy and infrastructure. While the UK Spring Budget 2023 includes several measures with the potential to support the country's energy transition and decarbonisation goals, more ambitious policy action is needed if we are to achieve the UK's Net Zero target by 2050.
Certainly, the latest revision of legislation in Scotland (NPF4) and the planned Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) UK reform that is taking place, to speed up the planning process for offshore wind developments, is welcomed, but still the Government hasn’t addressed how it will resolve the substantial issues the UK is facing.
In a post-Brexit world where opportunity for EU collaboration is more limited, coupled with the challenges of accessing specialist parts, materials and talent from mainland Europe and beyond, the UK is constrained by its own resources and machinery, of which there simply isn’t enough nor on a large enough scale.
What are the logistical barriers to offshore wind?
Once constructed, the turbines need to be transported by specialist vessels designed to take these mammoth structures offshore.
An estimated £3.3bn to £6.5bn needs to be spent on new heavy vessels this decade – but it takes about three years to build a wind foundation installation vessel (WFIV), so the supply chain delivering in time is unlikely, even if the investment and will is there.
A report by Intelatus Global Partners predicted nearly 30,000 increasingly large fixed-bottom turbines and foundations will be installed globally between 2022 and 2035, needing at least 10 WFIVs and/or six extra wind turbine installation vessels (WTIV).
With emerging European, Asian, Australian and Indian markets, and the US emerging as one of the largest bottom-fixed installation markets, the undersupply of heavy load carriers and installation vessels to meet projected demand is a concern. A shortage of suitable harbours with adequate lay down areas and sufficient draught in the UK where the turbines or vessels can be built or assembled, compounds logistical constraints. The construction of the turbines themselves is challenging enough, but even once built, this scarcity of suitable transport to the offshore development site is a major obstacle.
In terms of solution, there have been proposals to use tug boats, but for the floating wind farms, miles off the coast and located in treacherous sections of the North Sea for example, a tug boat will not always be able to safely deliver the turbines and could only attempt to do so in incredibly limited time frames, due to weather and sea conditions.
What steps can be taken to mitigate these challenges and meet the energy targets?
With all of these challenges combined, developers could be forgiven for wanting to see more from the Government. More support both financially and legislatively, but also on a broader scale. For example, the EU is making progress on the simplification of permitting rules and procedures with their new energy strategy, REPowerEU, helping to speed up the planning process.
The ongoing revision of the Renewable Energy Directive will be a key point in increasing offshore wind in the EU. As correctly pointed out from Wind Europe, the reform must really nail the improvements on the table: enshrine overriding public interest in the Directive; the clearer definition of the 2-year permitting deadline; the population-based approach to species protection; and the new rules on repowering.
That said, the complexity of securing the seabed lease, the construction location and consent is a substantial task, and one that can slow the development process. Specialists who have delivered these consent packages previously and are up-to-date with all legislative requirements, coupled with the Government’s revisions to the legislation, will hopefully lead to shorter lead times and an increase in the volume of projects delivered; crucial if the UK is to hit its 2030 target.
The offshore renewable energy industry's publication of the ORE Catapult D3 Report is a welcome step, providing valuable guidance, insight, and innovative thinking on how to support the development of the offshore wind supply chain and DeepWind Cluster.
However, there is no ‘silver bullet’ to achieve the ambitious UK targets set for the offshore industry. It is our opinion that a coordinated effort and investment from both central and devolved Government(s) and from the offshore supply chain will be necessary, to fully unlock the potential of the industry to meet decarbonisation targets, to maximise benefit to the UK economy, and to keep the UK at the forefront of the global offshore industry.
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