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Windy developments

Construction on the UK’s offshore wind programme is underway. Declan Lynch discusses progress with Crown Estate programme manager Alistair Dutton.

While there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure the UK’s offshore wind programme becomes a reality, Crown Estate programme manager Alistair Dutton insists significant progress is being made.

The Crown Estates’ £150bn Round Three offshore wind programme to construct 10,000 wind turbines around the UK by 2020 - each up to 200km offshore and in water up to 60m deep - is clearly challenging.

Pulling together

But Dutton believes everyone is pulling together to help make it happen.

“Everyone - the developers, the supply chain and the regulator - is committed to making this happen.”

Dutton points to the current range of projects already greatly increasing the capacity of offshore wind across Britain, as part of the Crown Estates Round Two programme. Installed capacity now stands at 1.5GW - making the UK a world leader in renewables. A further 2.7GW is under construction.

The National Grid is planning to build onshore substations capable of handling a total of 29GW of capacity.

“Round Three doesn’t just happen. We need to make it happen”

Crown Estate programme manager Alistair Dutton

 

All this preparatory work is the groundwork for the upcoming Round Three programme according to Dutton. “But Round Three doesn’t just happen,” adds Dutton. “We need to make it happen.”

The biggest challenge now is bringing the cost of offshore wind down. “That’s the big question,” he adds.

The Crown Estates is central to achieving the much needed reduction in costs with the Department for Energy andClimate Change (Decc) asking it to head-up a cost-reduction taskforce.

Cost control

The Crown Estates has appointed three consultants to help with the study to drive down costs. The report is to be presented to Decc by the end of the year.

“It’s a real example of industry coming together in an emerging sector trying to bring costs down.”

With the huge roll out of offshore wind capacity for Round Three, Dutton hopes there can be real cost savings by designing wind turbines and their foundations specifically for reliability in deep waters. The existing turbines have been adapted versions of onshore models.

Foundation design

One area where there is plenty of development is the competing designs for turbine foundations - between steel monopiles, jacket structures and concrete gravity base foundations.

Dutton says it is up to the developers to choose which is best. Responding to the dissenting voices about the cost of offshore wind capacity, Dutton is robust in its defence

“It’s something new - I’m comfortable with sceptics - I can persuade them around, and I would be surprised if there weren’t any.”

Another area of concern raised by British industry is the lack of domestic materials used on the wind sites. In general the three main components of a wind farm - the turbine, transition piece and monopiles are fabricated in Western Europe or the Far East.

Offshore wind developers point to lack of production capacity in the UK, as well as price and quality of components.

However, wind farm developers can look favourably on UK based manufacturing.

Local production advantages

“There are obvious advantages of producing materials locally,” says London Array offshore wind farm commercial manager Matt Britton. “We spend a lot of money chartering vessels - we want to reduce expenditure where we can.”

However, Britton makes clear that any parts must be competitive with global rivals.

The next key milestone for developers is the outcome of electricity market reforms which are currently out for consultation.

Resulting legislation is likely to mean that renewable energy suppliers will receive a form of subsidy through feed-in tariffs (Fits), replacing the existing renewable obligation certificate (Roc), which are due to be phased out by 2017.

Feed in payments

Fits are payments from the government to renewables producers for feeding electricity into the national grid.
Industry has raised concerns about the slow pace of reform, creating volatility for investors (NCE 2 August).

However, Dutton down plays the effect of this.

“The government has been clear that the current system is available to 2017, and from then on Fits will be used.”

  • Crown Estates programme manager Adrian Fox will be speaking at the Infrastructure Show in Birmingham next week. Visit www.infrastructure-show.com for more information

Readers' comments (1)

  • What an amazing set of assumptions. Cut out the subsidies and we would see whether this power source is viable. At present we are taking money from hard pressed consumers and not even pumping it back into our own economy.

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