European offshore wind targets were labelled impossible to meet and the “big guys” and the “little guys” clashed over floating wind at an eventful Recharge Global Offshore Wind Summit in Oslo.

Sector leaders gathered in the Norwegian capital last week for discussion and debate on offshore wind, which has had a tumultuous year marked by supply chain pressures, spiralling inflation and, consequently, major project cancellations.

Torgeir Knutsen, who is currently on secondment as a policy officer at the Directorate-General of the European Commission from Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, opened the event by saying that while ambition in the sector has risen “quite dramatically” this will “not come for free”.

Challenges facing the sector include developing an offshore grid, accelerating permitting and – following the attacks on the Nord Stream gas pipeline – the security of maritime infrastructure, he said.

Whatever Europe’s ambitions for offshore wind, David Linden, the head of energy transition at Westwood Global Energy Group, said its reach may exceed its grasp.

His consultancy has been “steadily revising down” its forecasts for deployment, he said, as it appears countries on the continent “are going to miss targets”.

Linden said this raised the question of whether costs have risen “too high” and support has fallen “too low” – with the no-show of offshore wind developers at the UK’s latest green auction an “obvious example”.

Javier García Pérez, offshore wind business director for Iberdrola in Europe, agreed. He said that a goal of reaching 100GW by 2030 – possibly a reference to a recent pact signed by nine North Sea countries – looks “impossible” given the pace of tendering to date.

Such targets are therefore “losing credibility” in the supply chain, he said, calling for more “binding objectives” to help change that.

Rikke Nørgaard, chief commercial officer and co-founder of Danish sector consultancy Aegir Insights, said that there will be a lot of “market correction” in the next year as governments look at how to ensure developers “stay around” and finish projects.

With 60GW already announced for offshore wind tenders for 2024, she said it will be a “very interesting” year for the sector.

One developer that did call a halt to a project, sending shockwaves around the industry and blowing a hole in the UK’s offshore wind energy targets, was Vattenfall with its 1.4GW Norfolk Boreas wind farm.

However, the Swedish company’s director of strategic projects, offshore wind, Philipp Mouline, confirmed that there is “for sure” a way forward for Vattenfall's Norfolk zone, which includes Boreas and its Vanguard sister projects.

Philipp Mouline (right), director of strategic projects, offshore wind at Vattenfall. Photo: Recharge

“It’s both in our interest and in the interest of the UK government to see the Norfolk project zone being built,” he said.

Mouline couldn’t say when that would be and “how that would happen” but he said that Vattenfall “continues to be committed to the UK market”.

The cancellation or pausing of projects such as Norfolk Boreas has “disturbed” supply chain providers such as cable makers and installation vessel owners, who warned at the event that they “cannot make huge investments” years in advance for projects if they are routinely getting cut.

The picture for the supply chain is also complicated by ballooning turbine sizes, the event heard, and this was on the agenda during another panel featuring Chinese manufacturer Mingyang and Danish rival Vestas.

‘Big guys’ and ‘little guys’ in floating wind

Darius Snieckus, chief executive editor of Aegir Insights, led a panel on the future of floating wind – saying that the industry has been operating under a “collective delusion” that getting 16GW in the water by 2030 is achievable.

Aegir’s numbers point to more like 1-2GW by this time, with 16GW more likely around 2035, he said.

Jérôme Guillet, a managing partner at Snow, a company focused on financing and development support for energy transition projects, said that the sector should trust the “small guys” in the industry.

Jérôme Guillet (sitting far left) clashed with RWE's Chris Willow (sitting far right) over floating wind. Photo: Recharge

It was smaller companies that “created the most progress” with fixed bottom turbines, he argued, despite efforts by the “big guys” to “shove the small guys out”. Smaller players have won tenders for offshore wind projects “when they’re fair,” he added.

Pitching for the “big guys,” Chris Willow, head of floating wind development at RWE Renewables, an early mover in the sector, said there are in fact “too many small guys in the market” and not enough “recognition of the complexity of floating wind”.

Ultimately, he argued it was the big companies that will lead the way due to their know-how and ability to put forward the “billions of dollars” that are necessary to get projects moving.