UK urged to tackle 'barriers' to offshore expansion
The UK government has been urged to remove barriers to the further expansion of offshore wind, including allowing Ofgem to consider alternative methods for grid connection, by parliament's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC). Chair of the committee Philip Dunne MP (pictured) has written to Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng highlighting remaining barriers for expansion of offshore wind energy in the UK and how they can be overcome. EAC said connecting to electricity grid remains a challenging issue for new wind farms.
The current approach offers each developer a bespoke single connection, with multiple wind farms creating significant impacts from cabling to the local environment and communities.
"In order to minimise these impacts on communities and drive efficiency for operators, it is key that Ofgem considers alternative methods for grid connection to enable developers more flexibility to support greater use," EAC said. It also noted that demand for deep water ports is getting greater with the increased size of turbine blades and support needed for floating wind farms. "But the UK's deep water ports are already reaching capacity, limiting further progress," the committee said.
The government should look to the examples of France and other European countries that have invested significantly in deep water ports, and clarify how it is supporting port investment and co-location of technology clusters to develop competitive advantage, it added. The Offshore Wind Sector Deal between industry and the government set out an aspiration of 60% of the supply chain utilising content from the UK, but EAC said it has learnt that this is "incredibly challenging and expensive for SMEs". EAC is therefore seeking clarity on how much the government will be allocating in the next budget to encourage investment by industry to support a green economic recovery, and in particular, to give confidence to SMEs to enter the offshore wind supply chain.
The committee also urged the government to consider the export potential of offshore wind, and to shift the balance of energy project finance by UK Export Finance from fossil fuel to renewable energy projects, especially where the UK has a strong competitive edge in offshore wind expertise. It also said that a more strategic approach to planning offshore wind would be strategic marine planning, rather than "piecemeal leasing and planning applications, ensuring wildlife is protected and avoid sites being refused due to interference with shipping or aviation radar". EAC said this could ensure clarity for the sector ahead of applying for planning permission.
The government has "therefore been asked what is currently being done to adopt a more strategic approach" to support the UK's net zero ambitions. EAC's calls follow a recent evidence hearing held by the committee and written evidence received as part of its inquiry Technological Innovation and Climate Change. Dunne said: "Offshore wind is a brilliant British success story - not only do we have the world's largest operational offshore wind farm off Walney Island, UK innovators also designed and tested the world's longest turbine blade.
"The government rightly has set ambitious targets to increase offshore wind energy generation, but achieving and exceeding them will require the government to support the sector even more.
"From ensuring the grid is capable of taking energy from expanding sites, to paving the way for deep water port infrastructure necessary for larger turbine blades, we can seize the opportunity to generate more energy through offshore wind as we move to a low carbon economy.
"Offshore wind has to play an even more significant role if the UK is to meet net-zero carbon emissions by 2050."