Seabed landlord the Crown Estate will tell developers to set out how they plan to make early investments to “support an internationally competitive supply chain” as part of its milestone 4GW leasing round for floating wind acreage in the Celtic Sea.

The Crown Estate – which updated the market on its Celtic Sea programme today (Monday) – will make the investment plans part of the process needed to progress to the final round of the tender due for mid-2023 launch, which will ultimately be decided on bid price and award leases for four, gigawatt-scale projects off Wales and southwest England.

The Celtic Sea leasing marks another big shift up in gear for floating wind both in the UK and globally and is set to attract a roll call of key players in the sector.

Putting the investment plans in as an element from the earliest stage of the tender – a first for The Crown Estate in its various leasing programmes off England and Wales – reflects the high priority given to building an infrastructure in areas such as ports that can support a floating wind supply chain in an area remote from the current UK heartland of fixed-foundation offshore development in the North Sea, and which can meet the specific needs of the floating sector.

Their inclusion comes at a time when requirements over supply chains and content in tenders and auctions are a live issue in the global offshore wind industry, with governments having to balance the need to secure investments and jobs with not undermining the competitiveness of developers and equipment suppliers.

Nicola Clay, head of new ventures marine at The Crown Estate, said: “Recognising the importance of a strong supply chain, we will be asking bidders to submit their supply chain plans as a key part of their bid. In an internationally competitive market, The Crown Estate will continue to facilitate investment in jobs, skills and infrastructure, so that communities neighbouring the Celtic Sea may benefit from the opportunities that a floating wind economy can generate.”

'Narrowing the areas for search'

The seabed landlord also on Monday revealed honed-down ‘areas for search’ as it moves towards setting the final leasing sites for the first 4GW, which it hopes will be in place by 2035.

Two of the five areas originally flagged when details of the plan were first revealed in July have been dropped after consultation with the market and extra investigation.

Smaller zones have now been set in the remaining three areas (see map at foot), which the Crown Estate said will continue to be refined “over the coming months into potential project development areas, in order to ensure that developers have access to floating offshore wind locations that are expected to be deliverable in the near term”.

Offering faster routes to deployment was another key theme of the Crown Estate’s update, as it said it is undertaking key environmental work on habitats impact as part of the process of setting the development areas.

“The Crown Estate will also conduct engineering and environmental surveys in advance of consenting, with a view to being able to supply data to successful bidders to accelerate delivery of their projects, potentially by many months.”

That chimes with UK government ambitions to drastically reduce consenting times for offshore wind projects as the nation chases a goal for 50GW of installed capacity by 2030, 5GW of it floating.

'Key step forward'

Dan McGrail, CEO of industry group RenewableUK, said: “This announcement is a key step forward in the roll-out of innovative floating wind projects in British waters.

“We particularly welcome the measures to ensure that the UK builds up a strong floating wind supply chain, and The Crown Estate's commitment to speed up the development process by carrying out vital environmental work early, as the industry had proposed. The Celtic Sea projects will boost our position as a global leader in this cutting-edge technology, as well as enhancing our ability to generate vast amounts of clean electricity at low cost for consumers in the years ahead.”

Although the focus of the UK’s flourishing floating wind ambitions has so far been on the giant ScotWind process run by Crown Estate Scotland, responsible for leasing north of the border, the UK's area of the Celtic Sea, which is seen as having potential to host almost 25GW by 2045, has already attracted public interest from the likes of Shell, EDF, RWE and Corio, as well as specialist sector players such as BlueFloat and Magnora.

Another in the latter camp is platform technology group Hexicon, which is developing the pioneering 32MW TwinHub Celtic Sea floating project that won a UK government-backed power deal in auctions earlier this year and is set to use turbines from China’s MingYang.

The Crown Estate's latest refined search area map. Photo: Crown Estate