With so much enthusiasm for the industry’s future exhibited at the Glasgow-hosted Global Offshore Wind conference this week, it can often be difficult to get at uncomfortable truths.
It’s important to maintain an esprit de corps of course, especially when the initial progress of the sector through the noughties had been checked since the European recession kicked in, and governments accelerated the process of reducing supports.
Yet recent positivity isn’t just down to a morale improvement exercise. Siemens decision to build a manufacturing facility on the Humber, the doubling of offshore capacity forecast by Crown Estate and the benefit to Scotland of the UK government’s final investment decision all show there is merit in being upbeat.
Former minister of energy Charles Hendry was keen to add to the positive momentum being generated by recent announcements, suggesting evidence that the UK could follow the path of the country’s oil and gas sector in using its leading position within the sector to export British offshore wind expertise around the world. He also said that developments such as the Humber manufacturing facility would lead to greater public acceptance of wind power’s place as a genuine industrial force for the country.
It was however Scottish Power’s Jonathan Cole who struck the most realistic chord as the conference momentarily looked like descending into hubris.
While sharing in much of the good vibes he reminded delegates of the persistent challenge the industry must overcome if it is to truly fulfil its potential as a means of power generation.
Referring to the ambition the industry has of offshore power being produced for less than 10 euro cents per kilowatt hour, Cole added, “Where we need to be is sustainable, self- funding and cutting costs dramatically. If we are not 30 per cent cheaper then there isn’t a future after 2020.”
While politicians took every opportunity during the key note speeches to associate themselves with the past, present and future success of the sector, their promises will ring hollow unless the people behind offshore wind technology continue to innovate the costs down.
Hendry, involved in the first taskforce aimed at doing just that, said all involved had been surprised at the rate at which the industry had succeeded in reducing costs to date. It is to be hoped that a similar rate of innovative progress can be made over the next four years.