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Offshore wind power – the multi-billion pound opportunity

20 November 2020
Written by Martyn Tulloch

In September we published a significant report examining the need for innovation in order to achieve net zero targets by 2050.  The ‘Closing the Gap’ report covered a mix of technologies that will be required to support the industry and beyond.  One of the key resources featured was floating wind. 

According to the report, floating wind capacity, which provides access to 80% of the UK’s offshore wind resource that fixed-bottom platforms can’t reach, has the potential to expand to 10GW of capacity by 2050.

Designing larger durable systems that are reliable, robust and capable of withstanding a host of complex sea and weather conditions is a challenge as is the requirement to standardise floating foundations to enable mass-production.

OGTC is working with partners and stakeholders to ensure that the technology innovation gaps in both fixed and floating wind are addressed.  For example, while fixed wind is a mature technology there are still opportunities to develop a lead in recycling wind turbine components and developing automated inspection options.  Designing larger and more efficient blades and taller towers are two other areas with innovation potential. 

However, it’s in floating wind that the significant opportunity lies. Much of Europe’s and indeed the world’s offshore wind resource cannot be accessed by fixed turbines, meaning that cost-effective floating wind solutions must be developed.  One Aberdeen-based firm that we’re supporting is Axis Projects, who have a new floating foundation solution centred on proven oil and gas technology.

Based on the concept of a midwater arch, Axis’ Tension Leg Buoy technology has been proven at scale in the wave test tank at the University of Edinburgh.  The concept minimises both the weight of the steel structure and fabrication costs while maximising turbine stability.  Ultimately it could reduce foundation costs by 25-30% and the cost of energy from floating wind by 10-15%.

The global opportunity for floating offshore wind could be immense, with Equinor’s latest forecasts indicating that 130GW of floating wind may be installed worldwide between 2030 and 2050.  This could be an £18bn per year revenue opportunity for the UK supply chain. 

An opportunity of this magnitude will be fiercely contested on many fronts. At OGTC we are committed to working with partners in industry, government and academia to ensure that the UK supply chain secures a position at the vanguard of this new and exciting industrial sector.

The oil and gas sector and offshore wind are inextricably linked, it’s a perfect marriage to bring together skills, technology and experience.  It’s 45 years since oil first flowed from the North Sea when Argyll came onstream in June 1975, closely followed by BP’s iconic Forties in November 1975. 16 years later the world’s first offshore wind farm was built off the coast of the Danish island of Lolland when eleven 0.45MW turbines were installed in 1991. These two industries were wedded together for the first time in 2007 when two 5MW offshore wind turbines were installed adjacent to Talisman’s Beatrice platforms in the Moray Firth. 

Today the UK has the largest installed offshore wind base of any country with 10.5GW constructed and many more developments in the pipeline.  Evidence of the lead the UK currently has in fixed wind installation can be found close to Aberdeen, where two of the largest offshore wind projects in the world – Moray East and Seagreen off the Angus coast – are currently under construction. 

The Offshore Wind Sector Deal aims to increase the UK’s installed offshore wind base to 30GW by 2050 and we will need to increase this further to over 70GW to meet the Committee on Climate Change’s Further Ambition Scenario and reach net zero by 2050. 

The opportunity for the UKCS is much larger, however, as Europe needs anywhere between 230GW and 450GW of offshore wind to reach net zero and the vast bulk of this is likely to be developed in the North Sea.  Globally, Bloomberg New Energy Finance proposed an upside scenario earlier this year where green hydrogen could meet up to 24% of the world’s energy needs by 2050.  Over 31,000TWh of renewable power would be required to meet this aspirational target, more than all the electricity that is currently produced globally.

The oil and gas sector already plays a significant role in meeting this challenge. The pace, however, is about to ramp up.

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