Much has rightly been said about the economic opportunity offered by offshore wind to Scotland – harnessing the country’s world-leading natural resource, transferring its oil & gas skills base, and readying its coastal industrial infrastructure for next chapter in the country’s North Sea history.
The global energy transition is gathering momentum – and the accompanying news-stream becoming an information deluge. Separate the green giants from the greenwash and the hard facts from the click-bait headlines with Recharge Agenda, our curation of the market-making events of the week, distilled down into one quick-read newsletter. Sign up here for free
At the same time, there is information fatigue, scepticism, and sometimes even distrust of those who paint overly glowing visions and promise wonders of regeneration from the offshore energy transition that is gathering momentum. After more than twenty years in renewables – and now as a project director leading development of 2GW of floating and fixed-foundation offshore wind off Scotland – I understand the reaction. But I do not agree with it.
Still, as the giant ScotWind leasing round projects begin to take shape, I do think that we need to inject some realism into the picture and start to define more precisely what we mean by ‘supply chain opportunity’. That is, what exactly do Scotland’s businesses need from developers if they are to seize the prize offered by an unprecedented wave of renewable energy plant construction and operation off these shores.
There are three key requirements here, and I’ll start with the one that is too often mentioned as an after-thought: people.
In past decades, Scotland has not lacked for the core metal-working and fabrication personnel needed for offshore construction – the country’s 60 years of supporting the international oil & gas industry in its waters have ensured this. But through our offshore wind projects and our work as part of the ScotWind Collaborative Framework Charter, we want to enable the skills transfer for these workers to renewables.
That’s important, but by the time we get around to transporting our first turbines out to sea in 2029-2030, we will also need the next generation of welders, subsea technology developers, engineers, and cable-installers – and we can add roles like marine biologist, data scientist and subsea robotics designer too. Many of those who could be central to our project plans are today in Scottish secondary – or even primary – schools.
The challenges as Scotland’s offshore wind industry emerges into being are arguably as great as the opportunities. Yet we are looking ahead with optimism
For this reason, as a developer we are set to provide support for STEM education across Scotland and we are feeding technology challenges to research institutes here. It’s a start and shows where our thinking is. This is how we take communities with us, securing workforce for not just the relatively short build-phase, but also the 30-plus years of operations and maintenance work, and future adoption of everything from unmanned underwater robots to alternative fabrication materials.
Next, infrastructure. We need greatly expanded warehousing, dry and wet docks, and quaysides. While I am not able to say exactly how large turbines will be by the time that we move into construction of our gigascale projects, we can forecast minimum requirements for floating wind fabrication – such as quaysides at a minimum of 300-500 metres long, with at least 30 hectares in laydown area, all able to bear loads of around 40 tonnes/m2.
Lastly, suppliers of goods, parts and services. The one thing that often counts against local UK suppliers is lack of track record in offshore wind: for developers, who carry high investment risks, an inexperienced supplier nearby can be less attractive than a veteran supplier based overseas.
There are several things to highlight here: early engagement, a collaborative and flexible approach to delivery, proven track record in another sector, and clear evidence of a business adapting itself to offshore renewables. All these factors will mitigate against a lack of experience in the offshore renewables sector.
As a developer, our position is that we are technology agnostic: we will feed offerings from new market entrants into our assessment process on a level playing field with those from global contractors and suppliers. There is self-interest in this. The shortlist of those companies that can deliver products for the harsh, maritime conditions that are workaday off Scotland is limited, and with each year, their services become over-stretched. Our sector needs new players as much as they need us.
The challenges as Scotland’s offshore wind industry emerges into being are arguably as great as the opportunities. Yet we are looking ahead with optimism. Our confidence is built on a number of factors.
- One, a Scottish government with net-zero targets that outreach those of many larger nations.
- Two, local expertise in offshore engineering combined with a great enthusiasm for entering the renewables sector, as well as the hive of R&D-minded universities at Strathclyde, Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, and Highlands & Islands.
- Three, the track-record of our founder companies – DEME, Qair and Aspiravi – on major international energy and infrastructure projects around the world and the appetite we have to transform our winning ScotWind bids into game-changing power projects that help pave routes to market and the new infrastructure and modern supply chain that we will need.
We should all bear in mind that ScotWind is a precious chance, not just for the Scottish supply chain, but for us too: if our generation of developers fails to deliver on our commitments to build local capacity, we may not see a ScotWind 2.0.
· Ian Taylor is project director at Thistle Wind Partners, a joint venture between DEME, Qair and Aspiravi, which is developing 2GW of offshore wind projects off Scotland