Climate change: Floating wind turbines can turn Scotland into a green industrial powerhouse – Sian Lloyd-Rees

The power cut caused by Storm Arwen in November resulted in nearly four days of power outage where I live in Aberdeenshire.

Floating wind turbines can access deeper water and stronger winds
Floating wind turbines can access deeper water and stronger winds

We have had power cuts in the past, but never for this long, and this time I think it was the uncertainty in not knowing how long the cold and dark would last which had the most effect on people’s well-being – both physically and mentally.

My family was fortunate in that we could at least light a fire for warmth, yet many in the village were fully reliant on electricity to heat their homes.

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It brought a strong community spirit as the village worked together to ensure everyone had access to heat and hot food.

We also knew that the power would be re-connected at some point and our homes would be lit and warm.

But it started to make me really think about those who cannot afford to heat and light their homes adequately on an ongoing basis.

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Fuel poverty can be measured and defined in different ways, but Energy Action Scotland estimates around a quarter of households in Scotland fall into this category.

It’s a really sobering thought and as we drive forward with the transition to cleaner energy sources in future, we must put a stronger emphasis on delivering power affordably.

Scotland has a phenomenal wind resource around its coastline that can be used to generate electricity.

Following the COP26 climate summit, it is clearer than ever that an energy transition is under way as we move away from fossil fuels to clean energy.

But this is not a cliff-edge moment, and there needs to be a well-managed transition that seizes the opportunities offered by new renewable technology.

More than 80 per cent of wind resources lie in water depth greater than 60 metres, which are unsuitable for the traditional offshore wind farms that are fixed to the seabed, so it is currently ‘stranded’.

However, tech advantages mean we can now harness this power through floating offshore wind turbines.

These float far out to sea in the stormy waters, and can produce energy on the incredible scale we need to deliver Scotland’s net zero ambitions.

In fact, Scotland can be a global leader in this new industry.

The complexities involved mean that floating offshore wind is currently more costly to develop than wind turbines in shallower waters or onshore, and so we need to put real emphasis now on reducing the cost to ensure affordable electricity is developed.

This is a major drive for Aker Offshore Wind, which is why we’ve been designing and delivering floating structures for marine industries for decades – many from our base in Scotland.

An emphasis on standardisation of design must be one of our priorities as an industry.

We have a design which involves three-legged floating structures in the shape of a triangle, which we’ve been using and optimising in offshore wind developments for the past ten years.

Others are looking at different designs for floating turbines, but it would be beneficial as an industry if we can collectively standardise a small number of different designs across all wind developers.

This has happened in the oil and gas sector for decades and the subsequent cost for a floating unit is vastly lower than when the first floating structure was built.

And it’s not just the benefits of lower costs this would bring; when we collaborate as an industry to standardise on fewer designs, we provide the best opportunity for a supply chain to grow locally and make the investment needed to deliver specific capabilities.

It delivers clarity, volume, predictability of what’s needed and a pipeline of projects where the same solutions and capabilities are needed.

If we focus on what our supply chain needs and provide it now, we can capture ‘first mover’ advantage for our supply chain in a number of different technologies and solutions.

That’s why Aker Offshore Wind, with our partners Ocean Winds, have put forward a £235million early investment package to support the renewable energy supply chain in Scotland for each successful bid in the ‘ScotWind’ leasing round.

Through direct work and supply chain opportunities, each proposal is estimated to generate more than 5,000 jobs and 200 apprenticeships in Scotland across all project stages.

There would also be extensive investment in Scotland’s existing ports and harbours, as well as innovative new subsea technology – a particularly key capability of our existing Scottish supply chain.

More than 30 memorandums of understanding are now in place across the supply chain in support of the bids and the early action needed.

An immersive virtual reality design of a fabrication yard has already been developed in conjunction with the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland at the University of Strathclyde as part of our early investment process.

And there is a commitment to 60 per cent local supply chain content from the UK, of which 40 per cent minimum content will come from Scotland.

I firmly believe Scotland can become a green industrial powerhouse by introducing floating wind on a global scale.

With our long history in hydro, experience in onshore wind, and advances in marine renewables, our country’s next frontier is the deeper waters away from shore.

It is time for innovation in the North Sea to lead the world once again – this time to a net-zero future.

And there are huge opportunities also for the rest of the UK.

But a just transition requires we put the effort in early to work out what a healthy and growing supply chain needs.

Collaboration and co-operation across wind developers is a cornerstone for the just transition ambition of Scotland and will ensure we can deliver clean energy affordably.

Sian Lloyd-Rees is managing director of Aker Offshore Wind

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