For just over a decade, the renewables industry has been meeting in Aberdeen to sketch out the future of offshore wind and marine energy at All-Energy, plus Scottish Renewables has, on occasion, staged events, too.
Today, in 2010, we finally have not just a vision, but a firm timetable and offshore framework in place to enable projects to proceed.
With leaseholders now announced by the Crown Estate for the third huge round of UK wind sites, agreements for lease for 10 wind sites in Scottish waters, and the marine sites in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, the industry is on the threshold of massive development.
Of course, the projects have yet to be fully scoped out, but with consortia formed and ready to progress, there will be a lot of activity ahead of the actual construction phase, starting roughly around the middle of the decade, most notably for the Round Three wind projects.
The Crown Estate Round Three announcement took Scotland’s total projected offshore wind capacity to more than 11 gigawatts by 2020, potentially drawing in more than £30billion of investment and slashing Scotland’s carbon emissions by more than a quarter.
This could create about 20,000 jobs – the challenge now is to ensure that Scottish-based companies capture as much of this investment as possible.
The lessons from Scotland’s onshore wind false start in the 1980s have been learned – when a failure to create the right pull from the domestic market resulted in the industry and the knowledge being pulled off to other countries.
Thankfully, we are in a stronger position today, with the experience and infrastructure of the North Sea oil&gas industry to draw on. That sector has a strong message for renewables on the need to put health and safety front and centre while working in remote, hostile environments.
Offshore renewables is similarly faced with the massive challenge of installing and maintaining a massive infrastructure, in this case, potentially thousands of individual structures anchored to the seabed.
Then there are the considerable challenges of getting the supply chain in place from the factory to the port to the ship, to the site at sea and onwards, to putting in place the skilled people who will operate and maintain projects in the sea and remotely onshore.
Scotland has to ensure that it is competitive and not just settle for being a host for offshore projects. The investment and capital being leveraged in by companies joining new consortia is a time-limited opportunity which we have to grasp soon or wave goodbye to.
One area of work that Scottish Renewables is currently engaged with is to assess the size of the market and the specific opportunities that must be captured.
Can we grow the manufacturing and skills base to supply not just our own nearby developments, but those elsewhere in the UK and Europe?
In many ways, the starting pistol has been fired with the lease announcements, and the race is under way to build that capacity to capture the market.
The good news is that many national and international businesses are already building their offshore renewables expertise here in Scotland.
There has been none of the glamour or fanfare associated with recent news of inward investors to the north-east of England, but in many ways, the decisions by SSE, Scottish Power Renewables, EDP Renewables and subsea contractor Technip have been just as important.
However, if we are to continue that trajectory and attract manufacturing and assembly facilities, industry needs the right support from Government in two particular areas – infrastructure and skills.
That support needs to come in the form of investment – both private and public – into redeveloping port and harbour facilities, identifying gaps in the skilled workforce and putting in place interventions to ensure that the necessary skilled labour is available to develop, build, operate and maintain these new structures.
And, by doing so, there will be benefits for the next surge of offshore engineering – wave and tidal energy.
The recent announcement from the Crown Estate of 10 successful bidders into the world’s first commercial wave and tidal leasing round pressed the accelerator pedal on development of this industry.
The projects earmarked for development within the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters strategic area amount to 1.2GW of installed capacity – half from wave and half from tidal-stream technologies.
With large utilities such as SSE Renewables, ScottishPower Renewables and E.ON Climate & Renewables developing these projects alongside technology developers such as Open Hydro, Pelamis Wave Power, Marine Current Turbines and Aquamarine Power, there is a great deal of investment riding on this round.
And there are further opportunities for this renewables subset in upcoming leasing rounds within the Inner Sound of Orkney and under the banner of the Scottish Government’s Saltire Prize.
The massive opportunities presented by the leasing rounds have also come at a time when the legal and planning framework for how we manage the seas is only just starting to emerge.
New marine-related acts are now in place at both Westminster and Holyrood that will set the context of offshore development for the decades ahead.
After strong engagement from Scottish Renewables in the process of developing and passing the legislation through parliament, it now ensures that climate change and sustainable development are enshrined and measures are in place to support the development of renewables.
Of course, much of the detail on how planning, project consents and marine protected areas will happen has still to be fleshed out over the months and years to come.
At Scottish Renewables, our focus is not just on creating the right policy environment to provide certainty to investors.
We must also ensure that Scotland’s businesses take full advantage of the opportunity to be part of the industry’s supply chain, and maximise the economic benefit at home.
That’s why we are working closely with our members, the Scottish Government, the Crown Estate and other key stakeholders to build a sustainable industry that realises Scotland’s ambitions as Europe’s green energy powerhouse.
Niall Stuart is CEO of Scottish Renewables