Floating Wind, By Royal Appointment: UK Edges Closer to Dedicated Tenders
The U.K. plans to smooth the path for floating wind and could join France in offering the technology a clear route to commercialization.
Floating wind now (sort of) has the backing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Thursday was the official opening of the U.K.’s new parliamentary session and, as always, the centerpiece was the Queen’s Speech. Written by her freshly appointed government, it sets out in broad strokes what the priorities of the new executive will be. An accompanying document fleshes things out a little.
“My government will continue to take steps to meet the world-leading target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” she told an audience of lawmakers from the upper and lower Houses.
Delving into the speech’s notes offers up those extra details. Unsurprisingly, the plans for the next five years included the promised ramp-up in the offshore wind target from 30 to 40 gigawatts by 2030. What was perhaps less expected were the five words that followed the confirmation on the 2030 target.
“We will increase our ambition on offshore wind to 40 gigawatts by 2030, and enable new floating turbines.”
The pieces of the puzzle are now falling into place, so what needs to be done to get floating turbines in the water and spinning?
The U.K.’s contracts for difference (CFD) scheme has successfully pulled the cost per megawatt-hour of regular offshore wind all the way down to £39.65 ($51.73).
The industry is pretty much unified on how that success should be replicated for floating wind.
“We'd like to see something like an ‘innovation pot’ within the CFD,” Rebecca Williams, head of policy and regulation at trade group RenewableUK, told GTM. “That would enable that technology to undergo its journey toward commercialization and to see commercial-scale projects brought forward.”
The Queen’s Speech was the second boost for floating wind in as many days. On Wednesday, officials in Scotland launched a long-term marine plan that increased its assessment on how much offshore wind could be accommodated in Scottish waters from 8 to 10 gigawatts. A delay in the publishing of the plan was holding up the next seabed leasing round in Scotland, which will include dedicated acreage for floating wind.
Floating wind is currently limited to pilot projects as it stands. The largest planned project is Equinor’s Hywind Tampen install, standing at 88 megawatts.
Floating wind structures borrow a lot of engineering from oil and gas platforms. Williams pointed out that also makes the technology a good candidate to transition existing workers and supply chains from that sector into renewables.
Many of these jobs are north of the border in Scotland. The Scottish government said this week it will be pushing its U.K. counterparts for exactly the mechanism described by Williams.
“Scottish Ministers will continue to lobby the U.K. government for an amended CFD regime which meaningfully and effectively targets and supports innovative technologies, including floating wind — exploiting the advantage and resource which Scotland has in these areas — and that supports supply chain development,” it said in a statement.
France is planning three dedicated floating wind tenders of 250 megawatts each. It will have a higher ceiling price on bids in acknowledgement that the technology still has some cost reduction ahead of it. The ball could be rolling on the first of this trio next year.
Albert Winnemuller is head of floating wind at turbine manufacturer MHI Vestas. He told GTM discussions about tweaking the U.K.’s CFD for floating wind had already begun. Between that and the progress in France, costs could diminish rapidly.
“[The French tender] has a higher ceiling price on the tariff for the auction, but it’s still an auction so there will be competitive pricing. The prices will definitely fall very quickly if these countries can support it, until we get to comparable cost levels as fixed-bottom,” said Winnemuller.
He doesn’t think floating costs will ever fall below those of monopile-based projects but can see a time where floating can replace more expensive jacket foundations for sites with poor soil conditions. Winnemuller also points out that comparing the costs of fixed and floating directly isn’t entirely a worthwhile process given that floating wind opens reams of new potential capacity in deeper waters.
He and RenewableUK’s Williams agree that if increasing offshore wind targets, in the U.K. and across Europe, are to be met, floating wind will be essential.
The fresh signal from the new U.K. government was welcomed by developer Vattenfall. A spokesperson for the Swedish energy firm told GTM the CFDs could do for floating offshore wind what it had done for fixed. If that is going to happen though, the government's planning must go beyond the CFD program itself. "It will also need to address challenges such as cumulative impacts, access to grid capacity and environmental constraints. We would encourage the U.K. government to consider how strategic planning and regulatory reform could be used to best facilitate offshore grid development to ensure that the U.K. can maximize the delivery of the offshore wind capacity needed to reach net zero.”
A spokesperson for the U.K. Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told GTM: “Our CFD program promotes a competitive market for clean, green electricity. To ensure CFDs continue to contribute to our ambitious new offshore wind target of 40 gigawatts of capacity by 2030, we keep it under regular review and will consider innovative new technologies, such as floating wind.”
Amending the existing structure of the CFDs might be easier said than done. A consultation on the next round (scheduled for autumn 2021) is planned in the new year. An innovation pot will feature highly, and there will also be calls for the frequency of auctions to be increased from the current biannual pattern. Brexit continues to be a drain on time, and finding room in the timetable to amend its underpinning legislation could be tricky. This will be the first test on the strength of the government’s offshore wind resolve.