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A buoyant opportunity in the Celtic Sea

You can't build fixed foundations in sea that's too deep. Step forward floating wind. It's a new technology taking inspiration from the oil and gas industry, where a floating platform, carrying a wind-power turbine, is tethered by chains to anchors on the seabed. 

Building early momentum 

Currently there is as little installed and operating worldwide as 200MW, with the Kincardine 50MW floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Aberdeenshire one of the world’s largest. Although the turbine technology needed for floating wind is already generating wind energy for the UK from fixed turbines, the rest of the floating wind infrastructure and costs remain untested.

Last year, we developed our proposals for early and full commercial scale floating wind leasing in the Celtic Sea, off Wales and the south-west, where there is a huge wind resource. Our ambition is to open up the potential of at least 4GW of new clean-energy capacity in England and Wales, helping establish a new industrial sector for the UK. The leasing process will add enough new capacity to provide clean power for almost four million homes, in support of the UK’s net zero target, as well as create opportunities for significant new investment in jobs, skills, and infrastructure.

But we are not starting from a blank sheet of paper. In autumn 2020 we awarded rights for the Erebus 100MW Test and Demonstration project, developed by Blue Gem wind. Situated 45km south west of Pembroke, the project is well advanced with planning and engineering design. Furthermore, in July 2021, another 300MW of new Test and Demonstration scale projects satisfied our initial application criteria for technical competence, delivery capability and technological innovation. The three projects, each of 100MW, are:

  • the Whitecross project off the coast of Devon and Cornwall
  • the Llŷr 1 and Llŷr 2 projects, each testing different technologies, south of Pembroke on the Welsh coast.

We have also approved the sale of the WaveHub test site north of the Cornish Coast, by Hayle, to a new owner, Twinhub, with plans to develop a 40MW project using new technology.

Taken together, this cluster of Test and Demonstration projects will be one of the most significant in the world and it's crucial to advancing the government’s ambition to achieve 5GW of power from floating wind by 2030. Innovative projects like these represent a vital step towards the UK’s ambitions to develop floating wind at a commercial scale. Not only do they help support the commercialisation of the market while bringing down costs, they are key to testing new designs, materials and construction methods. They will also play an important role in supporting the development and momentum of the regional supply chain, helping support new jobs and skills, and ultimately have the potential to drive significant social economic benefit both locally and for the nation.

Ambitions to scale up at pace

Our market engagements have reaffirmed the strong appetite for a 'stepping stone' approach that would enable projects in two categories. Early commercial-scale projects of around 300-350MW, representing expenditure through the life of the project, of around £1 billion, moving through to full commercial-scale projects of up to 1GW. We are hoping to complete our tender for rights by the end of 2023, with projects completed from 2030 onwards.

This approach, moving at pace through to full commercial scale, will help ensure that the local supply chain can seize the opportunity, and will help provide strong signals for enabling investments in local infrastructure, such as ports.

Collaboration is crucial

Our ongoing stakeholder engagement is an important part of ensuring we get things right, balancing our need for energy security and decarbonisation with protecting the natural environment and the interests of other users of the sea. We are working with many interested parties, including representatives from environmental, fishing, marine and ports organisations, as well as government, to understand all the various parameters. We've received input on the criteria that will underpin the spatial design of potential project locations in the Celtic Sea, as well as their size, sequencing and timing. To strengthen our approach we will, for the first time, conduct an integrated spatial design and HRA ahead of the market tender, to identify key environmental issues at the earliest opportunity, helping to de-risk investment and streamline the overall programme. Our revised approach to the HRA could lead to the award of rights up to 12 months faster.  We are also investing in offshore survey campaigns to help accelerate the planning process.

Alongside our leasing, we are working closely with the National Grid Electricity System Operator to ensure that there is the infrastructure in place to connect these projects to the grid. This closer collaboration could lead to a more co-ordinated approach to connecting offshore wind projects, reducing impacts on the environment and on local communities. 

 

Banner image: Illustration by Joshua Bauer, NREL 49054

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