21 October 2020

Director of Energy, Minerals and Infrastructure, Huub den Rooijen, shares his thoughts on the vital role of innovation and data in supporting the continued growth of UK offshore wind.

This article first appeared in Business Green.

 

Some fifty miles offshore, a drone whirrs up alongside a wind turbine tower, its cameras surveying the jumbo-jet sized blade. The delicate surface is recorded in minute detail and the data is fed into sophisticated algorithms, telling the maintenance engineers where to focus their efforts in keeping these blades spinning, ten revolutions per minute, day and night for decades to come, producing carbon-free power. This intersection of technologies has contributed to the breathtaking decrease in costs for producing offshore wind power - now one of the fastest growing energy sources worldwide.

Bearing in mind it was less than 20 years ago that the first-ever offshore turbines were installed in the North Sea, it’s hard to imagine that already 10% of all electricity consumed across the country comes from such offshore turbines. This is set to triple by the end of the decade, producing enough to power every home in the country, supporting the UK’s transition to net zero by 2050.

This extraordinary growth requires space, lots of space. Even offshore this is a scarce commodity as there are so many competing demands from many other sectors, as well as an absolute need to protect and foster the amazing biodiversity of our seas. The sustainable development of the sea space around our country requires us to examine all these interactions in detail, and ensure that all interests are recognised as we shape our plans for future development.  

As managers of the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we are in a privileged position to help find this balance – working closely with industry, government and many different stakeholders to take a long-term, strategic approach to support this development for the benefit of the nation, and facilitate innovation across all these areas.

We know that technological innovation has vital role to play in helping us respond to this challenge – enabling the sector to open up new areas of seabed, often further from shore, from which to generate clean energy for the nation.  As part of this, we were delighted to award seabed rights to developers Blue Gem Wind last month, for the 96 MW Erebus floating wind demonstration project off the coast of Wales – set to be the first ever floating project in Welsh waters.

Similarly, as part of our offer to the market through Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4, we are providing a financial incentive for projects that incorporate innovative technologies and welcoming proposals for hybrid projects which integrate offshore wind generation with other energy technologies.

Technological innovation like this is vital, but we also know that as the marine environment becomes busier, collaboration, and a ‘whole system approach’, is key to the continued, sustainable growth of the sector. This is why we are leading the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change programme, together with our programme partners the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Working in partnership with industry, environmental stakeholders and Government, this programme will tackle the huge challenges posed by so many overlapping and often conflicting demands for seabed space, providing the evidence for the future designs of vibrant and productive seas around our country. It will help us to tackle the cumulative environmental impacts of offshore wind, and its effects on users of the sea and onshore communities. For instance, it will seek strategic solutions to connecting to the UK electricity grid, consider 2050 offshore wind deployment scenarios and collaborate internationally to find opportunities to enhance biodiversity.

By working together in this way, we aim to facilitate the coordinated growth of the sector whilst supporting action to secure clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas.

Pioneering innovation has allowed a world-leading industry to develop in just two decades; and as we face the twin challenges of decarbonisation and biodiversity, now is the perfect time to take stock and prepare for the journey to 2050. Continued innovation is crucial and at The Crown Estate, we continue to drive market opportunities that unlock the seabed in a responsible manner, deliver green jobs and fire up supply chains, to ensure that the UK remains one of the best places in the world for offshore wind innovation and investment. 

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