Floating Offshore Wind in the Celtic Sea – no longer “If?”, but “How??”

With this announcement from The Crown Estate, it’s clear that discussing the potential of the Celtic Sea is now over. Any hypotheticals are at an end – we are now entering the era of delivery. And the big question is: How?

The Crown Estate has now published five areas of search for FLOW in the Celtic Sea – from which 4GW of project development sites will be competitively tendered, at GW scale, in mid-2023.

In addition, The Crown Estate has commissioned research which indicates that there is significantly more to come, with an additional 20GW of additional capacity by 2045 being actively discussed.

With this news, the possibility of FLOW in the Celtic Sea is now a clear reality. The last few years have seen growing consensus on the need for geographically diversifying wind generation across the UK, the credibility of proven technology being deployed in areas of abundant resource and the part UK regions will play in meeting our Energy Security and Climate Change targets. None of this has been lost on the growing number of offshore wind developers (representing billions of potential investment) who have been working towards the possibility of seabed leases.

The UK’s position as the market leader for industrialised Floating Offshore Wind was established earlier this year with the options for FLOW sites in Crown Estate Scotland’s ScotWInd round and this announcement strengthens that claim. In fact, the UK Celtic Sea alone is now one of the strongest FLOW markets in the world.

However, and this is key: None of this matters unless the capacity is delivered in line with ambition. Moreover, there is a growing expectation that the UK will benefit from the added value that this new industry will bring.

So, what can we do to make sure that we build on today’s announcement and respond to the challenge that has been set? We know the “why”, but now we need to turn our focus in some detail on the “how”. What has become clear to us is that there are no easy answers, no entity we can pick up the phone to and ask to provide the template for a brand new regionally anchored industry, no benefit in sitting back and waiting for someone to do something about it. We don’t have all the answers, but perhaps we might be on the road to knowing some of the questions.

  • Who is “We”? – This has to be the industrial ecosystem which will deliver low carbon electricity to the consumer. It will include the offshore wind developers, operators, transmission operators, contractors, manufacturers, infrastructure/ port owner/ operators, suppliers, landowners, local authorities and stakeholders. The requirements for each need to be fully understood, the dependencies mapped, the interfaces smoothed and the overarching objectives agreed.
  • What is “Deliverability”? – It is too simplistic to say that this should be the availability of a certain amount of low carbon generation by a certain time at a certain price. The scale and speed that the global floating offshore wind market appears to be ramping up to, coupled with a need to shorten supply chains from both a carbon and security perspective, means that the we will have to ensure that the UK industrial ecosystem develops holistically. Infrastructure, workforce and industrial solutions need to develop at a pace which supports the FLOW production rates necessary to meet targets. In addition, it has been well documented that the offshore and planning consenting processes need to be streamlined to ensure that bureaucratic bottlenecks are removed, to better understand cumulative impacts from the outset and to deliver a strategic approach to planning.

Now is the time to get this right, and we believe that the Celtic Sea region of the South West England and South Wales are right to be proactive in getting this moving. The key is credible actions which catalyse an ecosystem response.

For example, Celtic Sea Power have deployed Floating Lidars to develop a wind resource model and are commissioning region wide aerial surveys to support the regional characterisation needed to streamline consenting. With colleagues within the Cornwall FLOW Accelerator and the wider Celtic Sea Cluster, we have been working with developers, ports, infrastructure owners and regional businesses to start defining the ecosystem, including future workforce requirements. With colleagues in the Pembroke Dock Marine project, we are developing shared grid infrastructure with the potential to ensure Welsh and Southwest gird capacity is maximised.

With this announcement, the starting gun has gone off and over the next twelve months interested developers will be ramping up their efforts in order to be ready for this next round of leases. It is crucial that we all work collectively and collaboratively to support not only the deliverability of the projects which are successful, but those which will follow in future years.

Phil Johnston is the Business Development Manager for the Cornwall Floating Offshore Wind Accelerator Project, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

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