Innovation at the heart of offshore wind

The Paris Climate Change Agreement was a vote of confidence in the business opportunity presented by investing in the low-carbon energy transition, writes Brent Cheshire

A new wind of change is blowing globally, and energy and climate change are feeling its power.

Momentum has been gathering as national governments have signed up to policy commitments on the low-carbon energy transition over the past year. Nearly 150 countries have recently ratified the UN Paris Climate Change Agreement, which commits governments to limiting the global temperature increase and global warming.

More remarkable than the sheer number of signatories on the document were the identities of some of the individual countries who signed it. China and India, for example, which in the past had been seen as barriers to action against global climate change, were among the first to ratify the accord. No longer is climate action only seen as a priority for ‘do-gooder’ Western governments – it has become an unstoppable, global force. This is hardly a surprise. While the ethical argument for reducing carbon emissions is an important one, it is the economic arguments which are now driving the global surge in renewable energy investment.

Taller turbines can harness more offshore wind
Taller turbines can harness more offshore wind
Credit: Dong Energy

As the veteran investor Jeremy Grantham recently pointed out, although in the past strong government support was needed to expand clean energy infrastructure, today’s cost reductions in renewable technologies mean the private sector is increasingly able to thrive with much lower subsidies.

Governments and companies which invest in renewables are not only acquiring a stake in a more sustainable future. Thanks to economies of scale and new innovative technology, renewables are becoming increasingly competitive with fossil fuel industries, and promise to create significant numbers of high-skilled jobs, robust supply chains, and economic growth.

In all these areas, offshore wind is at the front of the pack, and no country in the world has more advanced or extensive offshore wind energy operations than the UK. Offshore wind currently meets around 5 per cent of the country’s electricity requirements, and this is set to double by 2020, with further significant growth to come over the next decade.

Meanwhile, UK offshore wind costs have fallen 32 per cent in the past five years, which is faster than anybody predicted, and the technology is expected to be competitive with other energy sources by the mid-2020s.

And, jobs and supply chains are also growing because of offshore wind. New estimates indicate that offshore wind companies could unlock an extra à‚£3 billion ($3.9 billion) for the UK economy by 2030.

As the world’s leading offshore wind developer, Dong Energy has long been aware of the considerable opportunities which the UK presents for offshore wind deployment. With one of the longest coastlines in Europe and the highest average wind speeds, the country is ideally placed to become a global innovation hub for the offshore wind sector, and export its technology and expertise around the world.

Innovation has been at the heart of the offshore wind industry’s remarkable success in driving down costs. Work is being undertaken to make savings and develop technology at every stage of the wind farm development process: from design, right through to construction, operation and maintenance. In particular, companies have also sought to reduce turbine mass, which allows them to deploy taller turbines which can harness more powerful winds at greater heights.

An early breakthrough in this regard came in 2007, when the Burbo Bank offshore wind farm in Liverpool Bay became the first to use Siemens’ 3.6 MW turbines. Covering a 10 km2 area, the turbines are over 150 metres tall and have a combined generation capacity of 90 MW, producing enough electricity to meet the annual electricity demands of 60,000 homes.

Burbo Bank was impressive at the time of its inauguration. However, today other offshore wind farms are emerging which boast even greater scale and innovative prowess. In early 2016, Dong Energy began construction of the Burbo Bank Extension, a vast project which spans nearly 40 km2, or close to 6000 football fields.

At 195 metres in length, each of the 32 turbines has an output of 8 MW and is taller than the Gherkin (180 metres) in London. At this scale they can harness unprecedented amounts of electricity from offshore winds.

The blades of the turbines are 80 metres long, and each turbine generator is heavier than 70 double-decker buses. Moreover, the length of the cabling routes connecting the turbines to the grid totals 55 miles, which is roughly the driving distance from Liverpool to Blackpool. Together, the turbines will have a generation capacity of up to 258 MW, enough electricity to power 230,000 homes.

It is worth noting that Burbo Bank Extension is Dong Energy’s ninth UK offshore wind farm, creating several hundred UK jobs directly in construction and through the supply chain. The MHI Vestas turbines used 80-metre blades designed, tested and manufactured in the Isle of Wight. Burbo Bank Extension is an exemplar of the benefits which offshore wind projects can deliver to the UK’s local economy.

In a burgeoning industry like offshore wind, finding new people with the skills and training to do the job is a necessity. By establishing local employer partnerships with technical colleges in regions like the Humber, offshore wind companies are helping more young people from local communities move into highly-skilled, well-paid jobs.

Offshore wind power has experienced remarkable growth and significant cost reductions over the past decade, and this shows no sign of slowing down. Technological innovation has spurred offshore wind’s evolution from a nascent, small-scale and relatively expensive technology into a large-scale, competitive one.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement was not reached on the back of the environmental agenda alone – it was also a vote of confidence in the immense business opportunity which investing in the low-carbon energy transition presents.

Brent Cheshire is UK Country Chairman for Dong Energy

From first employee to retirement

Dong Energy UK’s country chairman Brent Cheshire will retire in June after 13 years with the company.

Cheshire was Dong Energy’s first UK employee in 2004 – now the company has 850 staff.

Dong said that under Cheshire’s leadership its UK arm has invested around à‚£6 billion in Britain “and is the UK market leader in offshore wind”.

Cheshire will be succeeded by Matthew Wright, who is currently chief executive of Southern Water.

Cheshire said: “It’s been a great honour and privilege to lead Dong Energy’s UK business for 13 amazing years. Having started up the UK operation back in 2004, I’ve seen incredible growth and change, and I’m immensely proud of where the business is standing today.”

He said his career started in oil and gas with Amerada Hess Corporation and Shell and he added: “So to end up retiring from the UK’s leading offshore wind business has been quite a transformation for me personally.”

Dong Energy chief executive Henrik Poulsen said Cheshire had played “an absolutely fundamental role in the significant growth and success of our UK business”.

“This is an exciting time for our UK operation with four new offshore wind farms under construction and our first-ever REnescience bioenergy plant set to open later this year as well.”

As well as Southern Water, Matthew Wright has worked for United Utilities and Scottish Power.

Brent Cheshire
Brent Cheshire

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