Even for one of the fastest-rising stars of the energy transition, the offshore wind industry fulfilling the International Energy Agency’s forecast of 2TW of turbines turning by 2050 – from the current 49GW installed – is an inescapably daunting task. But for Jonathan Cole, who joined start-up developer Corio Generation as CEO after leaving sector pacesetter Iberdrola, the challenge to the sector and its biggest players is only to be seen as the “most amazing opportunity imaginable”.
Cole, who took on the top job at the newco spun out this month of investment bank Macquarie flanked by an executive team that includes sector heavy-hitters such as chairman Samuel Leupold, deputy CEO Alejandro de Hoz García-Bellido and head of engineering Torben Hvid Larsen, says Corio is part of an advance guard that will be fundamental to the world accelerating its shift away from fossil fuels.
“Offshore wind is going to be supremely important in terms of the global energy transition and the path to net-zero… and the massive volumes of clean, green power we need on this planet that are produced reliably and affordably,” said Cole, speaking to Recharge. “Practically every country in the world with a coastline is going to want to be exploiting [offshore wind].
“So, what we need is as many players as we can [with] the willingness and the capability to come in and really lead this forward and get this done as quickly as possible in a sustainable, long-term way. That is what the market needs.”
Shepherded to this stage in its evolution by “the big utilities and the big oil companies now coming in”, the offshore wind industry, he believes, “clearly now has a place for other types of developers – provided they have the core attributes you need to be successful: capability at every stage of a project’s life-cycle, not just commercially or financially as a developer but also procuring, constructing, operating”.
“And you really need to be able to play at massive scale,” adds Cole, who at Iberdrola was responsible for some 30GW of projects in Europe, the Americas and Asia.
Corio, underwritten by tens of billions of dollars in the coffers of Macquarie Asset Management – and with the option of pulling in “other backing” from financiers – as well as furnished with a huge 15GW pipeline of projects in development, “ticks all the boxes”.
“This most of all is what this is about: taking big portfolios of projects and driving down cost and driving up industrial benefit and building the technology at the same time, based on access to massive amounts of the right type of capital at the right time in a project.
“As start-ups go we are in a pretty good position because we kick off with a portfolio of more than 15GW of projects touching all the key markets around the world,” Cole says, circling the world as he references developments in the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Australia that Corio inherits from the Macquarie-owned Green Investment Group.
As start-ups go we are in a pretty good position because we kick off with a portfolio of more than 15GW of projects
“What Corio promises to be is a very relevant player in this market, a peer of many of the biggest players you see today [including, Orsted, Iberdrola and others] with a portfolio and capability to match. We are assembling a world-class team. On day one we will have about 100 people in Corio and we are going to be adding at least 100 more or so in the next year.”
For Cole, a “new model” of developer that challenges the emerging status quo leadership of “Big Power and Big Oil” in offshore wind is needed now more than ever, as the sector shifts up the gears in its role as an engine of the energy transition at a time when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned “it’s now or never” in the fight against global warming, with greenhouse gas emissions needing to peak by 2025 at the latest to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.
“Corio exists solely for the purpose of developing offshore wind assets. That is what we are here to do. We are set and we are optimising for that purpose. All the systems, all the processes, all the financing are being devised for this. There is no confusion.
“What we will be looking to do is to develop this global portfolio of offshore wind assets – 15GW is the starting proposition, we will be I am sure quite quickly adding to that – and we will be exploring what is needed to facilitate best development of these projects [in coming] to fruition,” says Cole.
And this will mean looking in the round at offshore wind production and taking a more nuanced and nimble approach, from pure-play clean power generation from bottom-fixed and floating projects through to fully integrated offshore energy systems that involve industrial-scale hydrogen production.
Macquarie has been a first mover in floating wind via giant projects off South Korea, with TotalEnergies, along with advancing plans for plays including Scotland – again with the French oil supermajor, for a floating wind-plus-hydrogen project– and Norway, with Agder Energi for deepwater acreage that is being auctioned off in the Nordic country's upcoming maiden tender.
“In some markets that will be pure-play green electricity production and transition, in others hydrogen and energy storage and other things,” says Cole. “This I think is another strength of Corio: the group this company is coming out of has a great deal of industrial heritage in those varied areas because it has been investing across the value chain – electrons and molecules – of energy infrastructure.
“We will also look at new emerging markets and how we can move into them to capitalise on the potential, while developing the organisational ability and financial capability to take on a good project opportunity at any state of its life cycle in any market, to leverage up our ambition.”
The bald ambition, he states, “is to get these assets developed and into operation as quickly and efficiently as we can – this is what is best for the advancement of the industry, best for the energy transition, best for the sustainability of our business”.
The development of Corio will be strategically focused but also “opportunistic in the best sense”, says Cole. “We will in the process be looking into how we can further accelerate the development process [of offshore wind] – using a long-term approach to developing strategic supply chain relationships and those with key stakeholders. This will help move the market forward. That is a core aim of Corio.”
This reflects, he adds, “a personal aim” too. I’ve worked for a very long time in the offshore wind industry from a time when it was certainly not seen as promising as it today.
“When I was thinking about what I wanted to do next [after Iberdrola] it started with my desire to be more deeply connected to the energy transition, to make an impact, with a relevant player. For me, this is an amazing opportunity to be in – an amazing starting position to be in [in terms of project pipeline and capital backing],” Cole says.
“It’s like being offered a place on the Harlem Globetrotters of offshore wind.”