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Harnessing wind power and making it work for the UK

Offshore wind is a central part of the government’s energy policy. Constructing up to 32GW of capacity of the coast of Britain is aimed at providing low carbon energy for the country and help meet ambitious European Union renewable energy targets of 15% of energy coming from renewable sources by 2020.

To facilitate the transition, land owner Crown Estates signed nine exclusive Zone Development Agreements with private developers, mostly energy utilities, to take proposals through the planning and consent phases in January 2010. It’s been over two years since the landmark agreements were struck and the key question on everyone’s mind is when will construction of Round 3 wind farms commence.

“It’s not as specifi c as one date [for the start of construction],” says den Rooijan. When the Round 3 programme was let in January 2010 Crown Estates gave a 2013 as the start date for construction - this has now been put back to 2015. Den Rooijan acknowledges that there has been a lag in construction timescales but insists the 2013 date was indicative only, and is confi dent that the overall targets will be met.

The biggest stumbling block for developers is the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the energy market

“We have a target that 25GW off shore wind capacity will either be in operation or in construction by 2022,” he says. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) has an even more ambitious target. It wants 18GW capacity by 2020, clearly pointing to a lot building work over the next few years, as there is currently less than 2GW capacity in place.

Targets ahead

Den Rooijan has been brought in from off shore consultant PMSS to the newly created role of head of off shore wind to help drive on the Round 3 programme.

But there’s still plenty to do to meet the targets. Latest estimates are for developers to submit their initial application to National Infrastructure Directorate - successor to the Infrastructure Planning Commission - later this year, with construction beginning in 2015. The process will be phased, dependent on each developer.

The Queen’s Speech paved the way for reform of the electricity market

But den Rooijan is clear that the biggest stumbling block for developers is the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the energy market. “It’s a fundamental we don’t control,” says den Rooijan.

The government put a new Energy Bill in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, paving the way for reform of the electricity market to encourage investment in low carbon generation technologies such as off shore wind and new nuclear power stations.

lack of detail

However, the bill was short on detail, with no details for the level of feed-in tariffs, and subsidies to encourage investment. Den Rooijan wants the government to quickly fi nalise the levels of subsidy through the Energy Bill to help remove any uncertainty for investors. “I’m aware decisions [by investors] are being held up until the levels [of subsidy] are fi nalised,” adds den Rooijan.

Den Rooijan is pleased to report that activities stemming from the earlier Rounds 1 and 2 off shore projects are continuing apace. There is 1.86GW of capacity already installed off the coast of Britain. A further 2.63 GW is under construction and a further 1.23GW has already been consented. Developers have applications to another 3.8GW lodged with the National Infrastructure Directorate and a further 32GW in the pipeline for Round 3.

“There is a lot activity in the off shore wind sector,” adds den Rooijan. “And we are using our influence to ensure the construction operations run as smoothly as possible.”

Rising costs

Another key item in den Rooijan’s inbox is the spiralling cost of off shore wind farm construction. Costs to install off - shore turbines have been rising over the past few years because of a combination of increased materials costs, construction problems and higher labour and equipment costs.

Decc signalled its concerns with the establishment of a recently announced Cost Reduction Taskforce to help spearhead plans to reduce costs to £100MW/h by 2020. Current costs are as high as £140MW/h.

Off shore wind fails to deliver any real economic benefit for the UK

Crown Estates is a key part of the task force, and although den Rooijan does not want to pre-empt the fi nal report which is due out net month, he is confi - dent it will have robust plans to bring down the costs.

“[There are] plausible scenarios to help reduce off shore wind costs,” says den Rooijan. Dismissing fears that the taskforce is just a case of rearranging numbers, den Rooijan insists the report will have some force. “Nobody is served by a report based on blinkered optimism [that costs will fall],” adds den Rooijan.

But reducing the costs will come from working with the supply chain, adds den Rooijan. “We need to identify bottlenecks in the supply chain and work with suppliers to make correct investments,” adds den Rooijan.

Another major concern is that off shore wind fails to deliver any real economic benefit for the UK - particularly because UK manufacture and contribution to the components of these wind farms frequently accounts for only 20% at the most. This is something den Rooijan wants to change.

“We want UK wind farms to operate in an open and transparent market.”

“There should be more UK content [in off shore wind farms],” says den Rooijan. “And we support the government’s target of at least 50% of an off shore wind farm to be UK-sourced.”

But den Rooijan does not want protection for UK fi rms. He is wary of following the pattern in France, where most the major contracts were placed with French firms.

“It’s not a route we want to go down,” adds den Rooijan. “We want UK wind farms to operate in an open and transparent market.” A key area of competition is that of the foundations. A number of prominent UK consultants and contractors, such as Arup and Costain, are developing concrete gravity base solutions.

As the wind farms move out into deeper water, the existing technology of using monopiles is likely to become too expensive, with concrete gravity bases a possible alternative to steel jacket foundations.

Den Rooijan doesn’t see floating platforms as a viable solution before 2020

Den Rooijan is keen to see new innovative foundation concepts come to market, but insists that the developer must decide on any technology.

Instead den Rooijan is focusing on enablers to help UK firms gain a greater spoil of the works.

“We need to work with the supply chain so they can make the appropriate investments to gain work in off shore wind,” adds den Rooijan. But den Rooijan doesn’t see floating platforms as a viable solution before 2020.

Crown Estates is planning a series of supply chain events across the UK in May.

 

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