An international network, backed by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has sett out its vision for offshore windfarms in the North Sea.
Their vision is for 40 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity to be deployed in the region by 2020. This is sufficient electricity to power the cities of London, Paris, Berlin, Dublin, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Brussels together.
Their astonishing claim is that, in the long-term, the total potential of economically-accessible offshore wind energy resources in Europe exceeds that of its total oil and gas production, with the potential to create more jobs than the North Sea oil and gas industry at its peak.
David Cameron has issued a statement reiterating his support for the drive. He first announced the setting up of the body in April at the clean energy ministerial, when it comprised only 20 companies. Called Norstek, it now includes over 40 world leading manufacturers, developers, supply chain companies, researchers and industry bodies.
“I am delighted to see Norstec rising from the waves," he said. “We are on the cusp of a second, clean energy revolution in the North Sea. Close collaboration between industry and government will be critical to making this happen.”
This was underlined by Edward Davey, Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who spoke of the “massive growth opportunity for the UK and our neighbours around the northern seas, bringing jobs and re-energising once thriving industrial heartlands on the East Coast and beyond.
“I am determined that we work closely with North Seas governments, businesses and academics to make the most of our plentiful offshore renewable resources,” he added. “Norstec will help the offshore wind industry in the northern seas to grow and create a new industrial revolution, driving economic growth across this part of Europe."
Maria McCaffery from Renewable UK said that its chief advantage was that it “fostered collaboration" because “we have more to gain by working together as nations than by pursuing our independent agendas".
She said this would “not only foreshorten the timescale for actual deployment of the generation capacity, but we can establish a new industrial wing and a skilled workforce". The initiative represents an enormous civil engineering challenge on an unprecedented scale.
World leaderThe UK is already a world leader in offshore wind power. It has more than 2.67 GW of offshore wind capacity installed, enough to power more than 1,800,000 British homes. This is over 60% of the total of European offshore wind capacity.
Last month saw three major projects commencing generation: Statoil and Statkraft’s 317MW Sheringham Shoal wind farm off the coast of Norfolk, Vattenfall’s 150MW Ormonde wind farm off the coast of Cumbria, and SE and RWE npower renewables' 500MW Greater Gabbard, off the Suffolk coast.
Together these have created over 1,700 jobs, with a capital investment of over £2 billion.
Other countries, though, are about to get in on the act, putting the UK in a prime position to offer its expertise abroad.
American ambitionsDeepwater Wind, a company majority-owned by New York investment firm DE Shaw and minority-owned by Boston-based wind developer First Wind, is planning to build its first offshore wind farm off Rhode Island. It aims to set up a string of them off the East Coast.
It is enthusiastically backed by Rhode Island's state administration and will be built by a local company, Providence. It hopes to achieve a federal lease during the first quarter of 2013.
Initially, there will be five Siemens 6 MW turbines, capable of powering 10,000 homes. Three 1 GW projects will follow. Eventually, there will be a network comprising of up to 200 turbines, costing over $4 billion and connected to New England and New York.
"It is great to have cheap natural gas. However, even if investing in new renewables seems expensive compared to today's gas prices, you need to take a longer view," said Deepwater CEO William Moore.
Japan's $483 billion driveAs it phases out nuclear power, Japan also plans to invest heavily in offshore wind power as part of a 20-year $483 billion investment that will also include solar, energy-from-waste and geothermal power.
Japan has several wind turbine manufacturers, such as Mitsubishi, Japan steelworks and Fuji heavy industries, but none of them are among the top 10 in the world by market share.
For this reason, David Cameron is hoping that expertise gained from working in the North Sea can be exported and sold in places like the US and Japan, not to mention developing countries like Africa and South America.
In developing countries, the UK will be able to count upon the leveraging power of public funds from the International Climate Fund and the $100 billion Green Climate Fund, agreed at the Dakar climate talks last December, to unlock far more private investment.
Energy Minister Greg Barker is currently in East Africa doing just this, promoting British renewable energy expertise, specifically in solar and geothermal, but also in onshore wind, and facilitating deals lubricated by these funds.
The full list of Norstec signatories is:
- Able UK
- Balfour Beatty
- The Crown Estate
- David Brown Gear Systems Ltd.
- Deep Ocean Group
- Dong Energy
- Fluor Ltd.
- Harland & Wolff
- JDR Cables
- Modus Seabed Intervention Ltd
- National Grid
- NIRAS Consulting Ltd
- OGN Group & Aquind
- Parsons Brinckerhoff
- PMT Industries Ltd.
- Prysmian Group
- Scottish Enterprise
- Scottish Power
- Scottish Renewables
- SeaEnergy PLC
- Skanska SMIT-Grontmij
- TAG Energy Solutions
- Tata Steel