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Wind energy foundations industry boom expected

Offshore wind energy targets are unlikely to be met by 2020 according to new research suggesting that demand for foundations for such structures will increase as European countries push to minimise the shortfall.

According to the Clean Energy Pipeline European offshore wind 2013 – realising the opportunity report EU member states are well behind the forecasts for installed capacity.

Clean Energy Pipeline’s statistics and a recent survey of over 200 senior executives in the offshore industry does suggest that the sector has matured sufficiently to be seen as a viable investment opportunity for institutional investors, which means that funding will not hold back future projects.

The survey suggests that 80% of respondents were either planning offshore wind investments, or believe there will be significant investment activity during the next 18 months in the UK, which raises the potential for increased demand for the offshore foundations industry.

According to the National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs), some 43GW of offshore wind capacity will be installed in European waters by 2020. The bulk of this new capacity will be in the UK with 18GW of projects planned.

Nonetheless, respondents said that the uncertainty of feed in tariffs in the UK could put the planned investment at risk and respondents expected a rush to push projects to be online before March 2017 when the payment mechanism changes.

The report says that this increase in scale will put huge pressure on the supply chain, including manufacturers of turbines, foundations and high-voltage cables, not to mention the entire installation industry. Over 80% of survey respondents anticipate that the emergence of deficiencies in the supply chain presents a “significant risk” or “somewhat a risk” to successful project development.

The reports suggests that automotive style production could help meet demand and this is already being done in the turbine manufacturing industry but the site-specific design of foundations means that an alternative is needed. Gicon Group head of the division of ecosystems said: “These deficiencies certainly exist but it is not just a case of ramping up capacity of established technology. There is also a need for new technology to exploit as yet underutilised wind resources. A prime example is floating offshore wind turbines, which also make better use of onshore supply-chain resources than fixed foundations.”

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