UK manufacturers could miss out on the multi-billion benefits of world's largest wind farm

25 February 2016

Artistic offshore wind farm

A renewable energy manufacturing expert is warning that foreign companies could reap most of the benefits when the world's largest wind farm is built off the Yorkshire coast.

Ben Kitcher, offshore renewables manager at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing, says the government and manufacturers must increase UK supply chain capabilities or lose orders abroad.

Kitcher says the Department for Business Industry and Skills (BIS) needs to provide finance and support to enable UK companies to demonstrate to European OEMs and project developers that have the relevant technologies and skills to supply to the industry.

At the same time, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Treasury need to make long term commitments to energy policy, which span 25 years of more, and set out a framework which would allow UK companies to make and secure investments which will allow them to supply into associated long term markets.

Kitcher says money currently spent on hardware - most specifically the wind turbines that generate the energy - is almost entirely spent overseas.

"The world's current largest wind farm, the London Array, cost £1.9 billion to build and is said to have less than 10 per cent UK content," says Kitcher.

"Dong Energy, the developer of both London Array and Hornsea Project One, the new development off the Yorkshire coast, says it has spent £5.5 billion on UK offshore wind projects since 2004, but it is highly likely that only a small portion of that figure has actually been spent in the UK."

Although it is widely accepted that offshore wind is a great opportunity for the UK to harness freely available power, the cost of energy from offshore wind farms is high compared to other methods of energy generation.

Organisations like the Crown Estate and RenewableUK have carried out studies into the sources of the costs and opportunities to reduce them, says Kitcher.

The prevailing wisdom is to reduce installation, operation and maintenance costs by using ever larger turbines so that fewer are needed to generate the same amount of energy.

Ben Kitcher, University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing offshore renewables manager. .

However, Kitcher warns that the trend to larger turbines could reduce UK content even further, unless action is taken to strengthen the supply chain.

"Greater benefit could be brought to the UK consumer and tax payer by increasing UK supply chain capability and attracting developers to buy from UK companies," says Kitcher

"Technologies and products which add value are ready to be deployed by UK companies. We now need to accelerate their application in projects such as Hornsea Project One."

Dong's investment in Hornsea Project One is part of £6bn that Dong is spending in the Humber over a seven-year period to 2019. Hornsea will have a 1.2 gigawatts capacity, sufficient to meet the electricity needs of well over one million UK homes when it is fully commissioned in 2020.

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