In December 2020, the UK government’s advisory body the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published a roadmap for the nation to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 that will rely heavily on offshore wind hitting 40GW of installed capacity by 2030, rising to 100GW by 2050.

For this to happen, offshore wind has to become the backbone of the UK’s electricity system within the next eight years, delivering a third of all supply at a price that comfortably undercuts fossil fuel alternatives. Not only will this target underpin a green revolution, it is also expected to bring around £60bn of investment for the UK and could contribute over 40,000 direct jobs by 2026.

While this is a huge opportunity for the UK there are several regulatory and technical barriers to be overcome to achieve this level of deployment.

Time is in limited supply and what we do in 2022 will be instrumental in setting the UK on its way to achieve 40GW by 2030. It will take a strong, concerted effort on the part of the energy sector to deliver on the target, as well as collaboration between government and stakeholders, spanning issues as diverse as turbine technology, planning on land and at sea, and the evolution of the grid.

Importance of technology

The UK currently has just over 10GW of offshore wind capacity installed. While this is a significant step up from the position we were in 2002 when the first offshore turbines were installed off Northumberland, we still need a lot more to reach the UK’s climate goals.

In part due to clear guidance from governments on offshore wind policy, the rate of installation of turbines has varied between an additional 1.5GW and 2GW capacity per year over the last four years. However, with ever-improving techniques and technology, such as latest turbines rated at more than 10MW each, the stretch needed to reach the CCC’s target capacity should be possible.

Bear in mind that a single rotation of the blades of an 8MW turbine can generate enough electricity to power the average family home for more than 28 hours. Orsted is running offshore wind turbines with 80-metre-long-blades, taking an offshore wind farm’s energy capacity to be closer to that of a fossil fuel plant or nuclear reactor.

The role of competition

While it’s all very well to build the infrastructure to support 40GW offshore wind capacity by 2030, it won’t be as impactful if the cost of the energy it is supplying is not competitive. Cost-competitiveness of offshore wind against fossil fuels and nuclear energy has been achieved because the offshore wind industry and government have worked in close collaboration to create an environment within which companies can continue to innovate and invest.

This innovation and investment is crucial to keeping the cost to the consumer as low as possible as we seek to accelerate the build-out of offshore wind with ever larger, more efficient turbines but also start to access deeper water locations, as floating technology will allow us to do with the help of pioneering leasing processes such as the ScotWind round currently underway off Scotland.

The UK has provided a stable but competitive framework for renewable energy investors, developers and supply chain partners to pull together and build globally competitive industries which is enabling the UK to rapidly decarbonise its power sector. To put this into context, in 2015, at the first competitive CfD auction, the price of offshore electricity was between £115 ($155) and £118 per megawatt-hour, by 2020 it sat at around £40. All eyes will now be on the outcome of the latest CfD auction later in the year.

Unlocking potential

Crossing off another year on the calendar as we edge towards 2030 shouldn’t be a cause for trepidation. It represents a huge opportunity for UK supply chain companies, and therefore UK workers and communities.

We need constant focus and support from the government as well as continued collaboration to help remove physical and technical barriers to provide ongoing support for the supply chain. Additionally, government must provide confidence to those considering making investments in the UK industry and businesses.

While carbon taxes are likely to keep rising and international trade is going to mean organisations will need to manufacture and provide services that are less carbon intensive, we must push on with building creative low-carbon hubs in the UK to become a global leader and smash our net-zero emission targets.

  • Duncan Clark is head of region UK for Orsted