The Big Interview: Duncan Clark, head of UK region at Ørsted

Duncan Clark leads the UK operation for Ørsted, which describes itself as a renewable energy company “that takes tangible action to create a world that runs entirely on green energy”.

The Danish-headquartered company – formerly known as Dong Energy – also states that it is the UK market leader in offshore wind, with about 1,000 such turbines installed in UK waters, which produce enough green energy to power more than four million UK homes a year.

The business, which also says it was once one of the most coal-intensive energy companies in Europe, in January announced its plan to bid in the ScotWind leasing round. "We are a global business, operating in Europe, Asia and the Americas, and the opportunity in Scotland is one that we are particularly excited about,” Mr Clark said at the time.

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Can you tell us a bit about your background and your current role at Ørsted…

'The ScotWind leasing round is a pivotal milestone for the Scottish renewables industry,' states Mr Clark. Picture: Patrick Harrison.

As Ørsted’s head of UK region I lead the company’s activities in the UK, which is home to the world’s largest offshore wind farms. I’m proud to say we have more than three decades of experience building out these complex feats of engineering, and currently have 12 operational offshore projects in these waters that we either own or partly own, one wind farm under construction, and a further three in our development pipeline.

I took up my current position in December 2019 but joined Ørsted in 2012 as programme director in offshore wind and was responsible for delivering Westermost Rough and Hornsea One, a record-breaking project that has paved the way for the next generation of offshore wind farms, each of which can each power more than a million homes. Before joining Ørsted, I spent 18 years in the energy industry, primarily in renewables and energy storage, holding senior roles at Innogy, Npower and The Crown Estate.

The firm is involved in the ScotWind leasing round. What does the partnership involve and what are its aims?

The ScotWind leasing round is a pivotal milestone for the Scottish renewables industry, and particularly for the burgeoning Scottish offshore wind sector, which is expected to trigger billions of pounds of new investment later this decade.

ScotWind will be pivotal to unlocking this resource and delivering on Scotland’s climate change targets, as well as bringing long-term jobs and skills to communities across the country – both directly on the projects themselves and throughout the wider supply chain.

Ørsted has entered bids for five projects: two floating wind-only bids as part of our joint venture partnership with BlueFloat Energy and Falck Renewables, and a further three as Ørsted alone. These solo projects include a mix of fixed and floating wind technologies.

We are the global leader in developing, constructing, and operating offshore wind farms. In building and equipping our teams in Scotland, we will harness our 30 years of experience to deliver large-scale projects into operation by 2030, in line with the Scottish Government’s target of 11 gigawatts (GW) of installed offshore wind by this date.

ScotWind’s potential to deliver zero-carbon growth and prosperity cannot be understated. We at Ørsted are primed to work in partnership with Scotland to make that potential a reality.

There has been much talk about the energy transition and the drive to net zero, but how realistic are the aims set out by the Scottish and UK governments for net zero by 2045 and 2050?

Scotland has one of the most ambitious net zero targets in the world. As a company that transformed its business from fossil fuels to renewables and is committed to creating a world that runs on green energy, we applaud Scotland’s ambition and commitment.

The 10GW ScotWind leasing round plus the 11GW target for offshore wind in Scotland by 2030 and the commitment to further leasing rounds in Scotland, for example, are hugely significant when it comes to actually delivering net zero by 2045.

Scotland has fantastic companies that will support this industry. And we know this because we are already working with Scottish companies to deliver our offshore wind projects; not just in the UK, but also in Taiwan, Germany, the USA.

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One of the most significant developments in the sector is the increased awareness that oil and gas and the renewables industry must cooperate if we are going to decarbonise our society and our economy.

This will be particularly the case with hydrogen: you can see that there will be hubs that source hydrogen produced from natural gas with carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen produced from offshore wind, sharing some of the infrastructure and pipelines. You may also see conversion of existing pipelines to transport hydrogen produced at sea from offshore wind.

How crucial is the upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow to achieving global goals on climate change and do you think something successful/actionable will emerge from it?

We know that the production and consumption of energy are currently responsible for 73 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it essential to immediately accelerate the transition to renewable means to combat climate change.

COP26 will be vital this effort and we are urging the world’s governments to go all out to accelerate this transition. The renewable technologies are already available to us and are the most cost-effective solution in most parts of the world.

If we can do this now, we still have a chance to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. COP26 talks must be met not only by bold targets, but also by meaningful policy and milestones that drive progress. Ørsted’s transition from Dong Energy to a company entirely dedicated to renewable energy shows what happens when government gets the policy right and businesses respond.

What is the single greatest thing that an individual/company can do to help tackle global warming?

It can feel overwhelming. My advice would be to start with near-term practical actions and think about incremental changes that can be made around your business.

For example, business-leaders could consider their direct energy consumption and whether a purchase power agreement (PPA) with a renewable energy project could work for their company.

PPAs cover a specific volume of green energy at a fixed price, and guarantee that power taken from the grid can be traced back to a specific wind or solar farm that feeds the equivalent amount of energy into the grid.

Besides climate change, the greatest challenge continues to be Covid-19. How has the pandemic affected the business, and how will it continue to shape operations?

The nature of our business, which relies on complex engineering far offshore, means health and safety precautions have always been paramount. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that we’ve also implemented ongoing testing at our operations and maintenance bases and on our service operations vessels that serve our projects.

What challenges are there attracting and retaining the right people and skills in your industry?

Like many technical and engineering-based careers, one challenge is to ensure we’re attracting young people to look at science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects in school and to consider careers in renewable energy.

I’m very proud of the work we do with local colleges and community groups near our wind farms to try to raise the profile of Stem subjects.

It is also clear that over the coming decades, oil and gas production will decline in the North Sea. I’m very interested in how we support the transition of the highly skilled workforce from that industry that exists across Scotland and particularly in the North-east into offshore wind.

We need to attract technicians, engineers, project-managers, subsea experts and so many more specialists into the industry, but the good news is that so much of that expertise exists already, and the demand for skilled workers to rapidly ramp up offshore build-out will be enormous.

When you look at the companies we already work with in marine services and construction, many of them also work in oil and gas. There’s huge opportunity here. If you look at our employees in the UK or Denmark, for example, there are many examples of former oil and gas workers now working our industry.

How different do you see the business being a decade from now?

I think the biggest differences will be our use of floating wind and commercialisation of hydrogen technology.

Floating offshore wind is an innovative technology with an exciting future in Scotland, which is in a great position to become a leader in this area. It will take time for floating to come down in cost, but our decades-long involvement in offshore wind development will help de-risk and fast-track the sector.

In a short amount of time, new fixed bottom offshore wind power has rapidly fallen in cost, now comfortably undercutting other energy technologies.

Renewable hydrogen will be a key technology in the decarbonisation of industry, transport and heat, which are all essential steps in the fight against climate change. Offshore wind is the perfect abundant power source to make low-cost renewable hydrogen at scale, and we’re excited to ensure Scotland can make a world-leading contribution to green hydrogen development.

Glass half full/half empty sort of a person?

Glass half full! I cannot overstate the threat of climate change, but with the right action I see many reasons to be positive.

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