Scotland is called the energy capital of the EU because its North Sea oil and gas industry pulled Europe out of the oil crises of the 1970s. It is now serious about renewable energy.
Renewables in Scotland’s electricity supply have grown from 20.18 percent in 2007 to 34.65 percent in 2011, a feat the country achieved by growing its abundant onshore wind and hydro. The government has committed itself to getting 50 percent of its power from renewables by 2015 and 100 percent by 2020.
As much as 5 gigawatts or more of the new renewable capacity is projected to come from offshore wind, according to Scottish Renewables Communications Director Rachelle Money, though it is only 190 megawatts, less than 0.1 percent, of Scotland’s current 5,453 megawatts of installed renewables capacity.
At the U.K. Offshore Wind and Supply Chain Conference in Aberdeen, product and service providers from all over the U.K. and around the world gathered for an update on Scotland’s plans and efforts. The sheer variety of exhibitions showed the budding industry’s wide-ranging economic potential.
Clyde Fasteners Commercial Director Iain Boyd displayed a selection of the foot-long hub and gearbox studs and bolts his half-century-old company, long a supplier to the oil and gas industry, has begun marketing to offshore wind turbine makers. A single offshore wind turbine requires 500 or more such bolts.
Kluber Lubrication Application Engineering Head Richard Atkinson said his company can provide a range of synthetic oils and greases for turbine gearboxes and bearings. The 600 liters of long-lasting synthetic lubricants in a turbine gearbox are likely to be changed every three years during a turbine’s 25- to 30-year lifetime, suggesting the need for 6,000 liters for each operating turbine. Scotland’s projected five gigawatts of new offshore wind through 2020 would likely require something like six million liters of Kluber product.
One of the key stages in the U.K. Crown Estate’s consideration of proposed offshore wind development is the Consents process. One of the key elements in that process is guaranteeing that a wind project is well-sited and environmentally safe. Consents Manager Andrew Finlay has recently taken on the challenge of making sure birds, aquatic life, and marine activities are not threatened or disrupted by offshore projects.
According to Senior Development Manager Ronnie Quinn, the Crown Estate was the first to review early offshore wind locations, because it is responsible for all of the royal family's land holdings, which include the seabed beneath British territorial waters. With the U.K.’s drive to grow offshore wind, Parliament seized on that experience by giving the Crown Estate the responsibility for managing and driving deeper-water offshore wind growth.
Fulfilling much the same functions as the U.S. Departments of Energy and Interior, the Crown Estate’s first five rounds of lease offerings have resulted, as of June 2012, in 1.9 gigawatts of operational offshore wind, 2.4 gigawatts under construction, 1.2 gigawatts approved and 5.1 gigawatts in planning. Quinn said to expect an announcement in 1H 2013 about deep water technologies, including floating wind turbines.
The U.K.’s old ports, even those in Scotland which have been servicing the oil and gas industry, will need renovating, explained Ian Munro, engineering firm I&H Brown’s Divisional Director. His company recently re-engineered a Liverpool harbor quay for handling nacelles and towers. It will mean a lot of design, engineering, building and dockside labor opportunities.
Generating the economies of scale necessary to bring the U.K. cost for offshore wind down from 140 pounds per megawatt-hour to the targeted 100 pounds per megawatt-hour is expected to be a boon for the U.K. and Scottish economies. Investment in offshore wind from July 2011 to June 2012 alone was estimated at 150 million to 600 million pounds.
The harsh offshore environment will require a new kind of technology, according to NGenTec CMO Dr. Charles Gamble. His Scotland-based company is challenging Boulder Wind Power in the design and development of axial flux, air-core permanent magnet direct-drive generators that will dramatically increase reliability and reduce the need for maintenance in the turbine’s most costly and vulnerable part.
In the opening plenary remarks for the conference’s second day, experts from business, government and academia agreed that achieving Scotland’s offshore wind ambitions will require planning. Centers of research and innovation must “solve a complex mosaic of puzzles,” said University of Aberdeen Professor Stephen Logan.
“Collaboration is the key,” agreed Offshore Energy Catapult’s David Arnold. “Find pioneers,” Arnold said. “Bridge builders who will step back from prejudices.”
The U.K. government could drive collaboration and bridge building, according to Scottish Renewables Senior Policy Manager Lindsay Leask, but it has been slow to set long-term goals beyond 2020, she said. "We need to make sure a process is in place," she explained. Supply chain investors could be stopped because developers aren’t giving them the business signals they need because those developers haven’t been granted consents to build.
With a commitment from the U.K. through 2030, Leask said, Scotland’s offshore wind industry will quickly get to work.