10 gigawatts and counting – offshore wind in the UK’s sails

Jonathan Cole, Scottish Power Renewables offshore manging director.

Jonathan Cole, MD Offshore Wind, ScottishPower Renewables

As Offshore Wind Week is marked in the UK, Jonathan Cole, Managing Director Offshore Wind at ScottishPower Renewables and Chair of the G+ Global Offshore Wind Health and Safety Organisation sees a technology in robust health.

The journey for offshore wind has been far from plain sailing. Challenge after challenge has been thrown at us. Our sector has been required to mature and industrialise a supply chain, whilst building ever more physically challenging projects, at the same time as maintaining health and safety and achieving huge cost reductions. Those waters are choppy enough, but when you also consider the volatile macro-economic, regulatory and political conditions of the last few years, it is amazing that we haven’t capsized.

Yet we have more than clung-on. In fact, the good news is that we’ve risen to meet and surpass every challenge. There is 10 gigawatts of offshore wind now in operation or construction, 8 million homes are being powered by our clean energy every year, and £30bn of private capital has been deployed. This has seen 10,000 high quality, well-paid jobs supported, many of them in parts of the country that need them the most. To top it all off, now we’re delivering at a lower cost than any other large scale low carbon source.

Shared vision is also helping to drive our sector forward. Our Fifty50 Vision is to meet 50% of UK’s electricity demands from Offshore Wind (which is around 50GW) and to create more than 50,000 new high quality jobs in the process. And this shared direction is also evident on all matters Health & Safety, which needs to be prominent in our minds as we deliver more and more challenging projects at a larger scale. The G+ group is helping to ensure that the highest safety standards originating in Britain will be exported globally, and that projects around the world can be delivered safely.

We do have more challenges ahead, but our sector has a history of turning challenges into opportunities. For example, we’ve turned the problems of an immature supply chain into an industrial opportunity, and we should view our future challenges in the same way.

Many people refer to the problems of integrating high volumes of variable generation into the grid system as we decarbonise our electricity sector. This isn’t a problem caused by offshore wind, nor is it a problem that only the UK faces. But there is an opportunity for both offshore wind and the UK to perfect the solutions. All developed nations are moving to energy systems which better correlates demand and supply of electricity, that has flexible generator technologies, as well as smart grid and storage capabilities. Maybe once we meet these challenges in the UK, we will create more opportunities for our supply chain companies to export these solutions all around the world.

The momentum behind offshore wind continues to grow even stronger. We have moved from being a niche part of the energy sector, to the backbone of our modern power system. Offshore wind continues to ride the wave of challenges it faces successfully, and the future holds much promise for our sector. The recent successful CfD auctions and continued support from Government in the Clean Growth Plan highlight that we have come a long way in a short time, but we have far from reached our peak.

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