Offshore wind energy will be a game-changer for Scotland

Offshore wind energy will be a game-changer for Scotland

Offshore wind power is the game-changer for Scotland’s sustainable ambitions. With the technology and the economics already proven, the winds of investment are blowing hard offshore and there is real confidence that Scottish and UK targets can be met.

The UK has just over 10 GW of offshore wind power in operation; its target is 40 GW by 2030. Scotland’s target is 11 GW by 2030, with 2GW currently constructed.

“If we can hit these offshore wind targets, that’s a game-changer in terms of using green power to heat homes instead of fossil fuels,” says Richard Cockburn, partner and head of energy at Womble Bond Dickinson. “And we probably can do it. We’ve got another 4GW of offshore wind under construction, and just under 24GW in planning, plus two big new competitions for new offshore wind under way [Round 4 in England and ScotWind in Scotland]. They could account for roughly 18 GW, so that’s more than 40 GW overall. The Scottish contribution would help significantly with the 2045 net-zero target.”

However, there are a number of challenges. Cockburn says: “The planning and consenting processes take a long time; there are supply chain bottlenecks, and overseas investors can be put off by the different processes in Scotland and the rest of the UK, which means more resources, more expense and more time. They would prefer one regime.

“We also need to build the infrastructure onshore and offshore to connect everything up. And we will need a few more auction rounds.”

The current auction rounds will not see turbines spinning until the mid-to-late-2020s, says Cockburn. However, this could be sped up because of the number of oil and gas firms involved in bidding. Some of the best-known industry names are moving into renewables – which is positive for net-zero ambitions, but not without other consequences.

“The presence of the oil and gas companies means more financial power behind the bids, meaning that established renewables developers need to fight harder to win offshore leases,” says Cockburn. “The involvement of the oil and gas majors – and their deep pockets – might mean time frames could be shorter for getting blades spinning, but it has caused a bit of a pause and rethink. How can revenues be maximised while at the same time retaining the goodwill of the longer-standing renewables developers?”

Another big issue is making sure Scotland derives greater economic benefits from the offshore wind boom. Paul Kenneth, a real estate and finance expert with Womble Bond Dickinson, says there is more focus on this nowadays – citing the Neart Na Gaoithe (NNG) site in the Firth of Forth, with a potential capacity of almost 0.5 GW. He says: “An operation and maintenance site [for NNG] is being built in Eyemouth, and turbines will be constructed in Dundee, so you will have a beneficial effect [in Scotland] from these operations.”

Cockburn notes that GE has committed to building a blade manufacturing plant at the new freeport on Teesside, and says: “We are seeing far more requirements to use local supply chains, and pretty much all offshore wind bidders are committing to have parts manufactured – or at least assembled – in the UK.”

Another important trend is the increase in floating wind turbines, with many more likely to be deployed as developers look further out to sea.

“Until now, it’s mostly been areas of shallower waters which have been put out to auction. In deeper water, including the harsher North Sea environments, floating offshore wind is the best way to do that,” says Cockburn, highlighting two current projects, HyWind Scotland and Kincardine Offshore Floating Wind Farm.

“This is an area where Scottish developments are of worldwide importance, and where skills and technology could be exported. Other countries with harsh coastal environments are looking at lessons learned here.”

Onshore wind and solar are also crucial for the net-zero target, with 9 GW currently deployed and 16 GW of installed capacity expected by 2030. But what is the prospect for expansion?

“There are still high levels of activity in securing onshore wind farm sites but a lot of suitable sites have already been developed,” says Kenneth. “Sites now are more often scattered across various land ownerships, and can be more difficult to get to, so you might be dealing with several landowners to construct a wind farm rather than a single landowner.

“Developers are looking to areas like the north coast, which brings in considerations of how to get agreement to develop a wind farm on crofting land.”

Kenneth says the industry is already looking at the next generation: “Planning permissions last for around 25 years and leases 25 years-plus, so there comes a point where many developers need to decide if they’re going to install new turbines or try to extend the lifespan of existing turbines.

“With advances in technology, you can monitor performance and take action for maintenance and repair before catastrophic failure. In some circumstances, re powering will be appropriate and in others, extending the lifespan of existing assets will be the way forward.”

John Boyce, head of wind projects at RES, which manages more than 7.5 GW of renewable assets in Scotland, says onshore wind is increasingly able to do more with less.

He says: “Wind turbines are evolving and we are now able to produce more energy with fewer turbines. Installing the most modern turbines available will ensure Scotland reaps the benefits of great efficiencies and more clean, green electricity generation.

“Often, we find that people get very hung up on the numerical value of turbine heights and we’ve seen local planning authorities placing arbitrary limits, but we think the most important part is ensuring wind farms are designed sensitively.”

He adds: “Meeting our ambitions of net-zero and decarbonising all areas of society will require the deployment of more onshore wind, the cheapest form of new generation. Every scenario from the Committee on Climate Change to the International Energy Agency sees onshore wind playing a vital role.”

So where is the renewable energy revolution heading next? “I think wave and tidal power will become mainstream in the next few years as we have such fantastic resources,” says Cockburn. “The technology is coming on leaps and bounds.”

With so much going on, does Scotland need to focus on specifics, or do a bit of everything?

“There is only so much money available to invest in renewables,” says Cockburn. “That tends to go into proven technologies and ones with pipelines of work. We need to do what’s achievable – and sensible.

“From a human point of view, a lot of jobs in Scotland are dependent on oil and gas, particularly in the north-east, and there needs to be a just transition. Part of that is looking where skills can be redeployed. Carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and engineering connected with offshore wind, wave or tidal are obvious places for that.”

Greener grid parks help with stability

An emerging and crucially important area for renewables, especially wind and solar, is energy storage and grid stability.

“Rather than having a handful of power stations reacting to supply and demand, there are now many different methods of generating renewable electricity on many different sites,” says Paul Mason, real estate partner at Womble Bond Dickinson.

Maintaining stability of the power grid has become a bigger challenge as more electricity is generated from renewables. Bringing solutions are firms such as Statkraft, which is developing Greener Grid Parks across the UK.

Guy Nicholson, head of grid integration at Statkraft UK, says: “We don’t always get to utilise all of the renewable electricity that could be generated, so our grid must be adapted to the rapid progress that renewable energy has made. Sometimes it’s been necessary to shut down wind farms and operate gas power plants to keep the grid stable. Projects such as our Greener Grid Parks will make this a thing of the past.”
World’s largest offshore wind farm moves step closer after clearing final key milestone

World’s largest offshore wind farm moves step closer after clearing final key milestone

The world’s largest offshore wind farm has moved a step closer after passing the last important milestone for the project’s delivery.

Joint venture partners SSE Renewables and Equinor have reached financial close on Dogger Bank Wind Farm C, the third phase of the vast North Sea wind facility which is due to complete in March 2026.

Due to its size and scale, Dogger Bank is being built in three consecutive 1.2 gigawatt (GW) phases. When completed, the wind farm, located off the north east coast of England, will have the capacity to power some six million UK homes.

SSE Renewables, part of Scottish energy giant SSE, and Equinor are already constructing the first two phases of Dogger Bank with Eni, joint venture partner on phases A and B.

Located off the north east coast of England, Dogger Bank Wind Farm in the North Sea is being built in three phases and will be the largest offshore wind farm in the world when operational, with an overall capacity of some 3.6 gigawatts.

Now, with financial close being reached on the project’s third phase, the wind farm has passed the last key milestone ahead of its construction delivery programme.

Total investment will be around £9 billion, of which some £3bn is for phase C, including offshore transmission capital expenditure in the range of £900 million to £1bn.

Dogger Bank A and B is a joint venture between SSE Renewables (40 per cent), Equinor (40 per cent) and Eni (20 per cent). At the start of last month, SSE and Equinor announced the sell down of a combined 20 per cent share in Dogger Bank C to Eni (10 per cent each) for a total consideration of £140m.

Alistair Phillips-Davies, SSE chief executive, said: “It is a fantastic achievement to be reaching financial close on the third phase of the world’s largest offshore wind project, just weeks after COP26 concluded in Glasgow and today marks an important early milestone in the delivery of our own Net Zero Acceleration Programme.

“Our plans will enable delivery of over 25 per cent of the UK’s 2030 40 GW offshore wind target, whilst also expanding overseas, delivering over 20 per cent of upcoming UK electricity networks investment and deploying the critical flexibility technologies to provide security of supply.

“Construction is well underway on the first two phases of Dogger Bank with work on the third phase already progressing and we look forward to this ramping up in the new year.”

Pål Eitrheim of Equinor added: “Reaching financial close on the third phase of Dogger Bank is a significant milestone as it demonstrates that we are on track with developing what will become the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

“The extensive interest from lenders underpins the attractiveness of UK offshore wind assets and the confidence in SSE and Equinor as developers. The level of interest achieved reflects the quality of the project and enables strong return on equity.”

The news comes just weeks after Perth-headquartered SSE outlined plans to invest a bumper £12.5bn over the next five years as it looks to accelerate its net zero plans.

The firm said the move makes it the biggest constructor of offshore wind in the world and will increase the amount of renewable energy produced by four gigawatts over the period.

EU countries struggle to unify response to energy price spike

EU countries struggle to unify response to energy price spike

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -France, Spain and several others stepped up calls to reform European Union’s energy market rules to cope with high prices but faced a challenge from a rival group of states including Germany as energy ministers met on Thursday.

European energy prices surged to record highs this autumn amid tight supplies and high demand for gas from global economies recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Prices have retreated from October peaks but remain elevated.

Most EU countries have already used temporary measures to shield consumers from higher bills, including energy tax cuts and subsidies for households. Together, the EU estimates those measures add up to more than 3.4 billion euros.

But EU states are split over their longer-term response.

Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and six other states said before Thursday’s meeting that they opposed EU energy market reforms. Price caps or switching to a different system to set national power prices could discourage electricity trade between countries and undermine incentives to build more low-cost renewables, they said.

Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Romania responded with a call to change EU rules to protect consumers from price swings. They also want joint gas buying by EU states to form strategic reserves and an investigation to identify reforms to the bloc’s electricity market.

The European Commission said it would propose a framework to enable joint procurement of strategic gas stocks, as part of a proposal to upgrade EU gas market legislation, due on Dec. 14.

Energy commissioner Kadri Simson said improvements also were needed in power interconnectors and the flexibility of Europe’s electricity grids. “Work on all these issues is ongoing,” she said.

A report last month by EU energy regulators did not identify major issues with the bloc’s power market design. An investigation by the EU securities watchdog said there was no proof of market abuse in the EU carbon market.

The findings were criticised on Thursday by some countries which want curbs on financial speculation in the carbon market, which they say have helped push CO2 permit prices to record highs.

“We can no longer pretend that the ETS (Emissions Trading System) is a perfectly functioning system … it requires a deep reform,” Polish climate minister Anna Moskwa said.

Record year for renewables

Record year for renewables

This year is expected to set an all-time record for new renewable energy installations, according to an IEA report.

Despite rising costs for key materials used to make solar panels and wind turbines, additions of new renewable power capacity this year are forecast to rise to 290GW in 2021.

IEA’s annual Renewables Market Report also finds that solar, wind and other technologies are on course to accelerate over coming years.

By 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is forecast to rise more than 60% from 2020 levels to over 4800GW – equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined.

Renewables are set to account for almost 95% of the increase in global power capacity through 2026, with solar PV alone providing more than half.

The amount of renewable capacity added over the period of 2021 to 2026 is expected to be 50% higher than from 2015 to 2020.

This is driven by stronger support from government policies and more ambitious clean energy goals announced before and during the COP26 Climate Change Conference.

IEA executive director Fatih Birol (pictured) said: “This year’s record renewable electricity additions of 290GW are yet another sign that a new global energy economy is emerging.

“The high commodity and energy prices we are seeing today pose new challenges for the renewable industry, but elevated fossil fuel prices also make renewables even more competitive.”

The growth of renewables is forecast to increase in all regions compared with the 2015-2020 period.

China remains the global leader in the volume of capacity additions: it is expected to reach 1200GW of total wind and solar capacity in 2026 – four years earlier than its current target of 2030.

India is set to come top in terms of the rate of growth, doubling new installations compared with 2015-2020.

Deployments in Europe and the United States are also on track to speed up significantly from the previous five years.

These four markets together account for 80% of renewable capacity expansion worldwide.

Birol added: “The growth of renewables in India is outstanding, supporting the government’s newly announced goal of reaching 500GW of renewable power capacity by 2030 and highlighting India’s broader potential to accelerate its clean energy transition.

“China continues to demonstrate its clean energy strengths, with the expansion of renewables suggesting the country could well achieve a peak in its CO2 emissions well before 2030.”

Solar remains the powerhouse of growth in renewable electricity, with its capacity additions forecast to increase by 17% in 2021 to a new record of almost 160GW, according to the report.

In the same time frame, onshore wind additions are set to be almost one-quarter higher on average than during the 2015-20 period.

Total offshore wind capacity is forecast to more than triple by 2026.

The IEA report expects this record growth for renewables to take place despite today’s high commodity and transport prices.

However, should commodity prices remain high through the end of next year, the cost of wind investments would go back up to levels last seen in 2015 and three years of cost reductions for solar would be erased.

Despite rising prices limiting growth, global biofuel demand in 2021 is forecast to surpass 2019 levels, rebounding from last year’s huge decline caused by the pandemic.

Demand for biofuels is set to grow strongly to 2026, with Asia accounting for almost 30% of new production.

India is expected to rise to become the third largest market for ethanol worldwide, behind the United States and Brazil.

Hands says renewables key for UK energy security

Hands says renewables key for UK energy security

A diverse source of homegrown renewable technologies will be key to ensuring the security of energy supply during the UK’s transition to net zero, according to UK Energy Minister Greg Hands.

Hands told the Industry and Regulators Committee today that this will mainly be a responsibility for government.

He added that as the UK continues to move forward in renewable energy developments there will be greater security of supply and a reduced reliance on fluctuating fossil fuel prices.

BEIS Director General for Energy and Security Joanna Whittington said that Whitehall will look to further modify future CfD rounds and upgrade the UK’s current capacity networks to facilitate such a transition.

Further adjustments to future auctions will also work to attract overseas investors to the UK renewables sector as the CfD continues to evolve, Whittington added.

Hands said he was confident in the appeal of the UK industry for foreign investments given the certainty government policy provides.

“They’ll know the UK is very serious about the supply chain and about making sure there are the jobs and skills attached to that investment as well,” he said.

“I think an area that we need to work more on is getting out to them the benefits and opportunities in the UK.”

Hydrogen storage planned at onshore wind farm near Glasgow

Hydrogen storage planned at onshore wind farm near Glasgow

The UK Government has earmarked £10 million ($13.4 million) in funding for a hydrogen storage project near Glasgow, Scotland.

The Whitelee green hydrogen project will develop the UK’s largest electrolyser and will be located alongside ScottishPower’s Whitelee Windfarm

Developed by electrolyser manufacturer ITM Power and clean fuel company BOC, in conjunction with ScottishPower’s Hydrogen division, the facility will be able to produce 2.5 to 4 tonnes of green hydrogen per day.

Once stored, this could provide the equivalent of enough zero-carbon fuel for 225 buses travelling to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh each day, according to the UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack said: “The Whitelee project will be the UK’s largest power-to hydrogen energy storage project, using an electrolyser powered by the renewable energy from the Whitelee Windfarm. This will create green hydrogen, a zero-carbon gas that is produced via electrolysis (splitting) of water, using renewable power.”

Jim Mercer, Business President, BOC UK & Ireland said: “The Green Hydrogen for Glasgow project is both innovative and exciting. It will help to shape the future of energy storage and demonstrate the value of hydrogen to Scotland’s growing low-carbon economy. This project will accelerate development across multiple disciplines – from production and storage, to transportation and end use.”

An additional £2.25 million ($3 million) in new government funding will support the development of hydrogen skills and standards in the UK.

The funding falls under the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio and will see the British Standards Institution (BSI) develop technical standards for hydrogen products, and a consortium comprising Energy and Utility Skills and the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers, establish new standards and training specifications to facilitate the training of hydrogen gas installers.

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