Sustainable Scotland: UK on verge of "something big" in offshore wind

The UK could achieve "something big" in offshore wind if all parties focus on finding solutions to speed up the time it takes to get turbines spinning - and get power into the grid more efficiently, writes David Lee.

Scott McCallum, a Partner and renewable energy expert with law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn, examines the challenges facing offshore wind in the latest episode of the Sustainable Scotland podcast.

The UK Government has set an ambition to have 50 Gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power installed by 2030 - a tough target with only 11GW currently installed and 10GW under construction (or close to it).

McCallum said: "Projects which are in their infancy are going to have to contribute towards those 2030 targets. It can only happen if we manage to deploy offshore wind consistently over a longer period of time.

"We can't afford to have the peaks and troughs we've had to date because we will lose the supply chain, we will lose the developers. And we’ll lose the potential benefits to clean energy that can be achieved within the next few years if we get it right."

The speed at which large offshore wind projects were consented (approved) had to improve, McCallum said.

Some projects are taking a decade or more to be consented - and McCallum said challenging issues, like the impact of wind farms on birds, had to be addressed earlier, at the so-called 'pre-application' stage.

"There are a few big issues, where the Government can give more of a steer," he said. "The big one is the impact on birds and in particular, impacts on European protected sites. That's been a reason for a lot of delays because people argue over the science. They argue over the cumulative impacts and whether all the different projects together are having an adverse effect on some protected sites.

"There is an opportunity to take a more holistic approach to protecting the environment, and protecting birds, and put in place measures to create a better environment for birds in the round."

McCallum also said a more strategic approach was needed to get the power generated by offshore wind into the electricity grid.

"There's a real desire to take a more coordinated approach to the grid - to ensure that every new generating station, every new offshore wind farm that comes along, isn't getting its own grid connection," he said.

"The difficulty just now is that it’s stalling projects getting started because applicants don't know where they're going to be connecting."

McCallum said both consenting issues and grid connections had to be resolved quickly - but if they were, the future was bright.

He concluded: "The UK has a fantastic wind resource. All the world's main offshore wind developers are very focused in trying to develop projects in the UK. We have a very supportive UK Government, and a very supportive Scottish Government.

"All the parts are there to make this work. There are loads of hurdles we're going to have to overcome but if everyone is aligned in trying to find solutions, I think we can achieve something big… where offshore wind can genuinely contribute massive amounts to the energy mix in the UK - in terms of clean energy, affordable energy, and security of supply."