The welcome news that Siemens plans a £160 million expansion to manufacture turbines in East Yorkshire, plus the UK Green Investment Bank’s (GIB) investment in the Westermost Rough project off the Yorkshire coast, must be balanced against high costs and risks but low confidence levels that could still affect future UK offshore wind developments, Green Marine Solution (GMS) stated.
It has been a worrying period for UK offshore wind investment. Hopefully, the corner has been turned by Siemens’ decision with Associated British ports (ABP) to manufacture turbine blades in Green Port Hull - a proposal first made in 2010 – and at the East Yorkshire village of Paull.
This has been reinforced by GIB’s commitment, along with Japan’s Marubeni Corporation, to give public and private sector financial backing to two significant offshore developments.
As a result, they will take a joint 50% stake in DONG Energy’s 35 turbines/210 MW Westermost Rough project, plus a 10% holding in the Gwynt y Môr project developed by RWE Innogy UK off the north Wales coast – currently the largest offshore wind farm under construction in Europe.
Marubeni and GIB are seen as well-established strategic investors and trusted risk partners.
To date, the UK’s offshore wind industry has been subsidised heavily, leading to complaints that turbines used have been manufactured overseas. The financial future has not been made clear.
This has undermined the long-term confidence of investors who see conflicting government signals over the UK’s commitment to renewables.
So far, so good. However, there is another major hurdle to cross to secure the economics of UK offshore wind power generation. This falls into the post-construction operational and maintenance arena where initiatives are needed to stem the rising costs of skilled labour and equipment. GMS says that it believes that there are fundamental solutions.
In the near future, GMS will be putting forward radical common-sense proposals for the development and training of a skilled workforce that does not come with the historic cost-legacy of the oil & gas industry. It will also consider how newly-trained operatives can be better introduced to the tough offshore environment.
One other approach is through advanced technology. GMS’ ROAM (Real-time Operation Asset Management) system is a software tool designed specifically to track, trace and optimise the location, status and use of people, plant and vessels.
In particular, GMS is pioneering the use of real-time data to give marine coordination an accurate digital picture of all working assets. This is a UK first. This strategic game-changer should go a long way towards underpinning the future economics of UK offshore wind and help to make it a more attractive investment proposition.
Press release, April 25, 2014; Image: GMS