The UK Crown Estate has fired the starting pistol on its Round 4 offshore wind leasing round, planned to open the way for at least another 7GW of projects off England and Wales by 2030.

The seabed landlord zoned in on four broad areas for development to add to the UK’s existing 9.3GW of operating offshore wind – the largest in the world – with another 4.4GW already under construction.

Three of the bidding areas – Dogger Bank; Eastern Regions and Northern Wales and Irish Sea, already feature heavily in the UK’s offshore wind plans.

The fourth, South East England, opens the way for development off the nation’s south coast. A map showing the areas can be viewed here.

The Crown Estate made clear that its focus would be on enabling further cost reductions in the industry – with fixed-foundation rather than floating wind favoured in water depths out to 60 metres "helping to enable cost-competitive deployment". A separate process underway by the Crown Estate Scotland is expected to open a route for floating wind development there.

But The Crown Estate said it is keen to incentivise innovation, and will be open to proposals in areas such as hybrid plants, storage and interconnection in the English and Welsh waters.

Other key features include leases extended from 50 to 60 years, and a maximum of 3.5GW in any one area "to balance new capacity across the country". The maximum individual project size is 1.5GW, with the minimum 600MW in the Dogger Bank bidding area, and 400 MW in all others. That means between five and eighteen new offshore wind projects could be awarded through Round 4, said The Crown Estate.

The Round 4 leasing process kicks off in October and runs until autumn 2020. New rights could be awarded as early as 2021.

Preparations for the round have not always run smoothly, with Recharge revealing how plans for an 'option fee' to be be paid by bidders caused a row in the industry over fears that deep pockets would be rewarded over delivery capability.

The Crown Estate said the three-stage process will "evaluate both bidders’ capability and their proposed projects, before using option fees to determine award; a fair, objective and transparent process which reflects the maturing offshore wind market."

Huub den Rooijen, director of energy, minerals and infrastructure at the Crown Estate, said: "The UK is home to the world’s largest offshore wind market, attracting global investment, meeting UK electricity needs, and playing a crucial role in the transition to a net zero economy.

"Leasing Round 4 is the next chapter in this remarkable transition, developed and refined through extensive engagement with the market and stakeholders, to deliver an attractive, fair, objective process, which helps to balance a range of interests in the marine environment."

The launch of the new leasing round comes a day before the UK government is expected to announce the winners of contract-for-difference power agreements under the latest auctions for current projects that were successful in earlier Crown Estate awards.