Renewables - Round 3 ups the windfarm ante

The Crown Estate, owner of the UK’s coastal seabeds, last month granted rights in Round 3 to energy companies in nine coastal zones to develop the biggest expansion of wind energy seen in the world so far. Meg Chesshyre reports.

Round 3 has the potential to add 32GW of offshore wind energy to the UK grid, on top of 8GW from previous rounds. The next generation of offshore wind farms will require larger and more efficient turbines, capable of generating 5MW of power apiece. The 32GW target equates to an extra 6400 turbines.

The developers who have signed exclusivity zone agreements with The Crown Estate are: Moray Firth Zone (1.3GW), Moray Offshore Renewables owned 75% by EDP Renovaveis and 25% by SeaEnergy Renewables; Firth of Forth Zone (3.5GW), SeaGreen Wind Energy, 50:50 owned by SSE Renewables and Fluor; Dogger Bank Zone (9GW), the Forewind Consortium equally owned by SSE Renewables, RWE Npower Renewables, Statoil and Statkraft; Hornsea Zone (4GW), Siemens Project Ventures and Mainstream Renewable Power, a consortium equally owned by Mainstream Renewable Power and Siemens Project Ventures and involving Hochtief Construction; Norfolk Bank Zone (7.2GW), East Anglia Offshore Wind 50:50 Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall Vindkraft; Hastings Zone (0.6GW), Eon Climate and Renewables UK; West of Isle of Wight Zone (0.9GW), Eneco New Energy; Bristol Channel Zone (1.5GW), RWE Npower Renewables, the UK subsidiary of RWE Innogy; and the Irish Sea Zone (4.2GW), Centrica Renewable Energy and involving RES Group.

Welcomed by offshore industry commentators as a shot in the arm in difficult economic times, the UK’s Round 3 windfarm licensing round could be worth £75 billion and support up to 70,000 jobs claims UK prime minister Gordon Brown.

Andrew Mill, CEO of Narec, technology advisor to the Crown Estate, described Round 3 as ‘a major tipping point’ for the future of offshore renewables. The scale of the round, he said, requires a new approach from industry across the supply chain to ensure delivery. As such, proving the technologies in the new larger turbines required for Round 3 will be a critical factor in accelerating the rate of installations and reducing the lifetime costs of new wind farms.

Narec is already working with manufacturers developing large turbines. It is an independent development partner to Clipper Windpower and Mitsubishi Power Systems Europe for its new machines, and has supported Siemens Power Transmission & Distribution in the technical development of advanced new designs for the deployment of offshore sub-stations.

Narec is creating a national technology advancement hub for the industry in North East England, to prove and accredit new machines. The consultant has recently secured public investment of £15 million to build on its current 70m turbine blade testing capability with a new 100m facility to test the largest of offshore blades.

Martin Grant, managing director of Atkins’ energy division, said the UK has the engineering expertise necessary to succeed in the wind farm arena, but there could be a problem with skill shortages. ‘While we have the engineering expertise in the UK, these skills are in short supply and the engineering sector will need to continue to work hard to attract and develop the engineers of the future.’

Mark Roberts, head of QinetiQ’s energy and environment business stream, saw the announcement as ‘a fantastic opportunity for the UK to become a centre of excellence in offshore wind technologies, particularly in the vital area of monitoring and maintenance’. He added: ‘Systems will be needed that not only identify defects in equipment, but also predict future degradation. Predictive monitoring technology is already in use in a variety of other motor applications – honing this technology to meet the unique demands of turbines will be critical to making offshore wind farms economically viable.’

Nicholas Pincott , energy partner at international legal practice Norton Rose, which advised The Crown Estate on Round 3, commented: ‘In addition to making the UK the leader in offshore wind generation, it is anticipated that Round 3 will act as a massive stimulus to all elements of the supply chain for offshore wind farms. This will include not only wind turbines, but also foundations and steel work, cabling and installation vessels.’

Meanwhile, Andy Cox, energy partner at KPMG, issued a reminder of the importance of tidal energy as an area for development. ‘While our European counterparts are much more advanced in the manufacturing base for wind, I believe tidal energy presents an opportunity for the UK to steal a march on the rest of the world. Tidal is still an unproven, nascent green energy source but, with the UK having access to a potent level of tidal forces, the opportunity to lead the way should not be ignored: both for improving our green energy usage and boosting employment in a range of sectors including traditional manufacturing.’

Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) and Tees Alliance Group (Tag) will each receive £1.5 million UK government funding for wind farm component manufacture. BiFab aims to set up a manufacturing facility at the Energy Park in Fife, Scotland, with capacity to deliver over 100 jacket substructures per year for 12-80m water depths, beginning 2011. Tag is developing an automated tubular production facility for the rolling and welding of large diameter tubulars and the construction of monopole foundatons, tripods, jackets and transition pieces at its Teesside facility. OE

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