Every decision made on offshore wind in the coming year could dictate the UK’s success in reaching future climate goals, writes Ørsted’s Duncan Clark

Last year, strict guidelines for the UK to accomplish its goal of net zero emissions by 2050 were released by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the government’s independent, statutory advisory body. As the report dictates, and is now protected by law, it is imperative for the UK to reduce its emissions, with numerous initiatives relying on the goal of installing 40GW of offshore wind by 2030, eventually building up to 100GW by 2050.

While this presents a significant opportunity for the UK to contribute to global efforts against global warming, reaching this target won’t become a reality unless the energy sector receives the collaboration it needs from government and stakeholders to remove existing technical obstacles and regulatory barriers.

Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the world today and to tackle this head on, solutions must come from deploying renewable energy resources on a much larger scale than anything we have seen so far. Incremental changes alone won’t cut it. We need to revolutionise the way we power people, from heating to transport and beyond.

In order to reach 40GW of offshore wind by 2030, wind power must become the supporting pillar of the UK’s electricity system within the next few years, contributing a third of all supply at a value that undercuts fossil fuel alternatives. If existing barriers can be overcome, achieving this target won’t only bolster a green recovery but is also anticipated to incentivise around £60bn of investment for the UK and may generate over 40,000 direct jobs by 2026.

So, what can be done in 2022 to ensure we pave the way to make offshore wind goals a reality?

Building the right framework

Right now, the UK has just over 10GW of offshore wind capacity installed. While this represents a significant step forward from the position we were in 2002 when the first offshore turbines were installed in Northumberland, we still need a lot more to reach the UK’s climate goals.

In part due to clear guidance from governments on offshore wind policy, the rate of installation of turbines has varied between an additional 1.5GW and 2GW capacity per year over the last four years. However, as techniques and technology continue to evolve, with new solutions such as next generation turbines capable of generating over 10MW each, the stretch needed to reach the CCC’s target capacity should be possible.

Consider for a moment that a single rotation of the blades of an 8MW turbine can generate enough electricity to power the average family home for more than 28 hours. At Ørsted we’re now running offshore wind turbines with 80-metre-long-blades. These have the potential to scale up an offshore wind farm’s energy capacity to closer to that of a fossil fuel plant or nuclear reactor.

Influence of global markets   

While an important first step in the process is building the infrastructure needed to support 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, to achieve the greatest impact, the cost of the energy supplied also needs to be brought down. The cost-competitiveness of offshore wind today, when set against fossil fuels and nuclear energy, has been achieved thanks to the close collaboration between industry and government to create a fertile environment in which companies can continue to invest and innovate. This is vitally important to keeping the cost to the end user as low as possible, as we look to accelerate the roll-out of offshore wind with ever larger, more efficient turbines. This is also true as we start to explore deeper water locations, as floating technology now allows us to do.

The UK has provided a consistent, competitive framework for renewable energy investors, developers and supply chain partners to come together and build world-class competitive industries. This in turn is enabling the UK to rapidly decarbonise its power sector and look ahead to the decarbonisation of the economy more broadly. To put this into pounds and pence, in 2015, at the first competitive CfD auction, the price of offshore electricity stood at between £115 and £118 per megawatt-hour. By 2020, in comparison, it sat at around £40.

2022: A seminal moment

As we approach the new year and get ever closer to 2030, it represents a chance to take stock of what has been achieved so far but more importantly where we’re going. 2022 will be the seminal moment; the pivotal time where every decision made will dictate the UK’s success in reaching climate goals for the future. It constitutes a great opportunity for UK supply chain organisations as well as workers and communities. Continued collaboration from the government will eliminate barriers and boost investment in the energy industry.  

Although carbon emissions duties will almost certainly continue rising and global trade conditions will dictate that businesses must provide less carbon intensive products and services, we must pave the way by creating low-carbon hubs in the UK and driving a new world standard to meet and exceed our net zero emission goals.

Duncan Clark is head of the UK region at Ørsted.

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