The offshore wind sector is facing a looming bottleneck unless planning starts now to bring vast amounts of power deep inland by the middle of the century, warned a senior executive from the cable industry.

Plans for terawatt-scale generation at sea will be undermined unless the necessary transmission infrastructure is in place to bring electricity to demand centres that are often far from shore, said Raul Gil, a senior vice president for submarine power, telecom and offshore business units at Prysmian Group.

Speaking at a Recharge Digital Roundtable on global offshore wind markets, Gil said the industry risked running into problems if it focused only on what was happening at sea, and needs to engage with planning for transmission onshore too.

“I want to warn all the players of this industry that there may be a bottleneck between the shore and the consumption centre.

“You have a lot of potential in the North Sea or North America, but a lot of consumption [far from shore].

If in 2050 we want a terawatt of offshore wind, this will have to be brought to the centre of continents.

“If in 2050 we want a terawatt of offshore wind, this will have to be brought to the centre of continents.”

Gil said it was often forgotten that onshore transmission projects can take much longer than those at sea. “You have hundreds of landowners, bridge crossings, railway crossings – a much more complex environment than under the sea.”

Prysmian, which manufactures and lays a large part of the offshore energy infrastructure off Europe, is currently building what will be the world's most advanced cable-laying vessel, Leonardo da Vinci.

The Prysmian executive said Germany, which now faces billions of euros a year in congestion costs, is a prime example of a market that failed to act early enough to plan for bringing offshore wind to its demand centres.

Inspiring transition

Gil was among a line-up of sector big-hitters to offer their perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing the industry, as it starts a global build-out forecast by the International Renewable Energy Agency to reach 1.2TW by 2050.

Sean Whittaker, principal renewable energy specialist at International Finance Corporation (IFC), part of the World Bank, said his organisation is identifying an ever-growing list of markets with significant offshore wind potential.

Whittaker said the IFC’s current long-list of 48 markets adds up to some 15.6TW of technical potential, but the key was to “work out the links in the chain needed for offshore wind to flourish”.

The IFC executive said nations such as Brazil, Romania and Vietnam were encouraged by the example of Northeast England, which has seen huge benefits flow from the UK’s world-leading offshore wind programme. “The transition [there] is really inspiring. They see the huge economic development opportunity,” said Whittaker.

The UK, and specifically Scotland, was on the radar of Nischal Agarwal, managing director at the Green Investment Group (GIG). Macquarie-owned GIG in May said it would compete in the Scotwind round for new leases off the country’s coast, and he said Scottish offshore wind would have a key role to play in the UK’s overall net-zero ambitions – with floating wind “a big part of that”.

Agarwal told the Digital Roundtable how it has moved from its early role as pure investor to a more comprehensive development profile. “We’ve built the full skillset required to be a developer,” he said.

Digital transformation

Stephen Bull, SVP for wind in the New Energy Solutions unit of Norwegian energy giant Equinor – which is co-developing the world’s largest offshore wind farm, the 3.6GW Dogger Bank, in the North Sea – said the embrace of digitalisation would bring massive benefits to that project and the wider industry.

Bull said Equinor’s offshore wind operation was reaping the advantages of the big progress made in digitalisation by the wider group.

We steal as much as we can from our oil and gas colleagues.

“As the representatives of offshore wind we steal as much as we can from our oil and gas colleagues. We steal with pride,” said Bull.

Dogger Bank will be equipped with the 12MW Haliade-X turbine from GE Renewable Energy, which was also represented at the Recharge virtual event. Fabrice Kermorgant, commercial leader at the wind OEM, said the manufacturer was breaking records at every step as testing of its first prototype in the Netherlands advances to plan.

“We are really happy with the performance of the machine we have in Rotterdam,” said Kermorgant, who said success in the offshore wind sector depends on “great engineering, and the ability to quickly build a flexible, very competitive supply chain. This is very really in line with GE core competency”.

The digital event, moderated by Recharge Editor-in-Chief Darius Snieckus, was opened by Gunnar Herzig, managing director of industry body World Forum Offshore Wind.

Herzig said the rocketing potential of floating wind had made forecasts of 1.2TW of capacity at sea by 2050 – once seen as wildly optimistic – “much more realistic”.

Herzig said: “For offshore wind, it is all about scale – we need more markets.”