Offshore can rise to the challenges

Okay, so the British offshore wind industry is under challenge. Let’s reflect on some of those challenges and put a few things in perspective.

Going back to first principles, why do we need renewable electricity in our energy mix? Politicians, scientists, non-governmental organisations and economic leaders around the world all agree on one point: the current energy model is too dependent on fossil fuels and we need more energy that is affordable, creates jobs and produces fewer CO2 emissions.

This is hardly a new issue, but it’s very much a live issue, as the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reminds us.

The conclusion of 209 lead authors and 50 review editors from 39 countries and more than 600 contributing authors from 32 countries is pretty clear: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”

Every national community must make choices on energy supply. By definition, every country is at a different starting point, with different resources, geographical constraints and political agendas. Those countries bordering the northern seas of Europe have direct access to some special energy resources (that’s why it is so cold and rough out there!) so let’s put them to work.

The cost of offshore renewables is largely driven by capital cost and continuing maintenance. This means that for each MWh produced, there are proportionately more jobs than with fossil-fuel sources of electricity. Now, we hear a lot about parity of supply to the grid, but we don’t measure parity at a high enough level. True parity should be considered, including production cost, security of supply, environmental impact and economic opportunity.

Reducing the cost of offshore wind remains a key priority as our industry matures. Prices will be driven down by competition in a healthy market, costs will be reduced by serial production processes and reduction of waste. All of this will further reduce risk.

And the offshore wind industry must, with enlightened self-interest, ensure that those communities that are investing are also beneficiaries of the economic returns.

Industry must set the example; only then will the market rewards be forthcoming. Who else will do it? Governments can only wield blunt instruments to encourage this to happen. And be aware, there is palpable frustration in the UK, home of Europe’s windiest seas, that so far the distribution of jobs does not feel equitable.

In tough economic conditions, with pressure on retail electricity prices, we risk talking our industry into inactivity and out of business.

Let’s remind ourselves of the underpinning principles of our industry: we must have renewable electricity in the global mix, offshore is the sensible place to find it, and in the end common sense will prevail.

Julian Brown is chairman of Norstec and UK country director for Areva Wind. He is also an elected board member of RenewableUK

This piece was published as part of the Thought Leaders series. Recharge’s Thought Leaders’ Club brings together leading thinkers and participants from the renewable-energy sector to examine the key challenges facing our industry