The UK stands at an energy crossroads. It is clear that our old energy choices are no longer adequate for an age which will see fossil fuels rise in cost, energy security becoming an increasing concern and, of course, the dangers of climate change even more apparent. Alternative options are needed and difficult decisions must be taken.
The rest of the world joins us in this dilemma. Ambitious carbon reduction targets, coupled with policies promoting energy self-reliance, have prompted a worldwide rethink of the energy sector, spearheaded by some of the world’s most prominent political leaders and thinkers.
From our own Prime Minister David Cameron to US President Obama and Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, the message is clear: renewable sources must play a much greater role in modern societies for the sake of economic growth, energy security and protection of the environment.
Offshore wind fulfils all three of these objectives. It is the epitome of a truly global source of renewable energy, as the greatest resource lies beyond coastal waters and requires international co-operation to harness it effectively. The UK is working with its North and Irish Sea neighbours to develop the cross-border grid infrastructure necessary to make the most of our wind resource.
This resource is extensive. The UK’s maritime exclusive economic zone covers 773,676 square kilometres, of which only 30,000 km2 has been released for development – less than 4 per cent – yet this relatively small area of the sea will provide around 40 per cent of our annual electricity needs.
This is one of the most ambitious plans for the development of offshore wind resources in the world
Progress so far has been rapid: from 568 turbines already installed and providing around 1.5 per cent of the nation’s electricity today, the sector is set to reach a contribution of around 8 per cent in the next five years. By the end of the decade, the UK Government is calling for 18,000 megawatts of installed offshore wind capacity, contributing around 55 terawatt -hours of electricity and creating more than 40,000 jobs.
This is one of the most ambitious plans for the development of offshore wind resources in the world, and the rewards for achieving this vision will be great, with tens of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of investment in play. But the rewards of ambition do not stop at 2020.
Offshore wind projects are enormous, complex endeavours, and successful delivery involves a wide range of skills, from project management, design, ecological assessment, electrical engineering, maritime expertise and many others, including financing. While many of these skills will be sourced close to where projects are built, others can be provided at distances of thousands of miles.
Development of the areas of the sea that have been released up to now has given the UK a head start in developing these skills, and the services and supply chain that rely on them. We have already installed more offshore wind facilities than any other country in the world.
If we can harness this competitive advantage, we can ensure that, wherever in the world an offshore wind farm is to be built, people will want to come to the UK first, to tap into our hard-won expertise. Our vision is for the UK to become, for the global offshore wind market, what the City is to financial markets: a global centre of expertise that attracts business from all over the world.
RenewableUK’s Global Offshore Wind Conference and Exhibition, at ExCeL London next month, is the first of its kind and provides an international forum to develop this vision. What better opportunity could there be to showcase our world leadership position than in our capital city in this Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Year?