The British construction industry faces a massive skills challenge to deliver the next round of offshore wind expansion, leading engineers said this week.
Development licenses were awarded last week by the Crown Estate for so-called “Round 3” sites that could create up to 32GW of new generation capacity.
Building them is expected to cost £75bn and create up to 70,000 jobs by 2020.
But this will only be done by British companies if the necessary skills are cultivated now, engineers told NCE.
The winning consortiums for each of the nine zones were announced last Friday. All selected bidders have signed exclusive zone development agreements with the Crown Estate to take the proposals through the planning and consent stages. The Crown Estates awards the licences as owner of the UK seabed.
“The scale of the ramp up is enormous, there is not a lot of time.”
Simon Harrison, Mott MacDonald
“The scale of Round 3 is quite beyond what we are used to doing in this country and will require more renewables expertise than ever,” said Mott MacDonald energy director Simon Harrison.
“The scale of ramp up is enormous,” he said. “There is not a lot of time,” he said. “If this does move forward confidently the skills will catch up.”
“The step up in skills will be a massive challenge, but it is one that the UK can rise to,” said Atkins energy division managing director Martin Grant.
“Is there enough expertise in this country to make these projects happen? I would say absolutely yes,” he said.
Grontmij head of renewable energy Chris Paddey said British companies must not miss out on Round 3. “I really hope we pick up as much work as we can,” he said. “It could be a stepping stone in developing the manufacturing bases in the UK again.”
Round 3 at a glance:
32GW: Energy capacity to be created by Round 3 wind farm sites
£75bn: Value of Round 3 construction programme to supply chain
70k: Jobs expected to be created in the supply chain by 2020
60m: Maximum depth of sea where new turbines will be built
The government stressed that Round 3 was an opportunity for UK companies, despite fears that the work could be outsourced and the fact that many site developers − including EDP Renovaveis, Statoil and Statkraft − are overseas companies.
Prime minister Gordon Brown said Round 3 could create 70,000 jobs by 2020, including 30,000 in installation, operation and maintenance. “I’m determined to do everything we can to bring those jobs to Britain,” he said.
“I’m very confident about what the British supply chain can achieve.”
Energy secretary Ed Miliband said he was “very confident about what the British supply chain can achieve” while business secretary Lord Mandelson anticipated “huge opportunities for UK companies”.
Engineers said the offshore oil and gas industry could offer transferable skills. Round 3 sites are further offshore than the preceding Rounds 1 and 2 and therefore more challenging. Dogger Bank, the zone furthest afield, is more than 125km from the Yorkshire east coast.
“The UK has already demonstrated that it can produce engineers to make the offshore oil and gas industry function,” said Grant. “They have been doing this for years.”
But Harrison warned that those working in the oil and gas industry tend to be older and closer to retirement and thus may be unavailable when work begins on Round 3. “The age profile of those skills is quite old,” he said.
He added that there is a further danger that the skilled engineers that Britain does have could be snapped up by renewables developments in Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium. “They will all be fishing for the same skills,” he said.
A new wave of talent
The key will be training up new engineers with relevant skills in the next few years, the experts said. “We have got an opportunity,” said Grant.
Students who are not enthused by engineering may be attracted by climate change issues, he said. “That is kind of cool − engineering isn’t. What we have got to do is make that link. We are talking about [skills] investments that are going to run for a couple of decades,” he said.
Paddey said the prestige of Round 3 could attract young engineers. “That is going to help us bring in the cream of the graduate stock,” he said.
Harrison said Mott MacDonald is interested in pursuing Round 3 work. “It is terribly exciting for everybody,” he said. “There is lots of opportunity for everybody, not least Mott MacDonald.” Grant said Atkins, currently doing Round 2 work, is also pursuing Round 3, and Paddey said Grontmij is “certainly going to be courting all of the winning consortia. We are pursuing that quite heavily at this moment in time,” he said.