Mixed messages on offshore renewables

Another good story by Stephen Vass in yesterday’s Sunday Herald. He reports that the Crown Estate aims to license a developer to build a demonstrator wind farm off the west coast of Scotland that would operate in depths beyond the current 50-metre limit of round-three projects out to about 100 metres. Deeper waters have been avoided to date because they are more challenging in engineering terms and because the favoured technology there is floating turbines. These are far less developed than the turbines being used for shallower waters, which stand on the seabed. Ronnie Quinn of the Crown Estates said:

“It has the potential to be bigger than round three. It certainly does make the west coast in particular much more interesting. If we can get test-and-development turbines in the water by the second half of this decade, then you are talking about needing a couple of years to gather data. The mid-2020s for commercialisation would seem doable.”

However, offshore renewables also need strong grid connections. The BBC is reporting today that the cost of a planned subsea power cable to link renewable energy projects on the Western Isles and mainland Scotland has risen by 75%.Scottish Hydro Electric (SHE), a subsidiary of energy company SSE, said it will now cost at least £700m. That is bound to delay developments in the Western Isles.

Today’s FT also reports that orders for offshore wind turbines have come to an abrupt halt in the UK, in what some industry figures say is the first clear sign of a long-feared slowdown in renewable energy investment. The three leading manufacturers of the turbines due to be made for the vast banks of wind farms planned for British seas have taken just one offshore order between them this year. As the FT puts it: “Offshore farms are far less politically contentious than onshore plants but any sign of government opposition to wind power spooks developers. They are also crucial to meeting European Union targets to get 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.”

I think mixed messages on offshore renewables is the only conclusion from these reports. But the key factor is the UK government sorting out its approach to renewables.

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