Following the ScotWind leasing round closing on Friday 16 July, there is now great anticipation to see which applications to build Scotland’s next generation of offshore wind farms are successful.
Based on the current system, these decisions will be made based on a model where applications with tried and tested offshore technologies are favoured over potentially bolder innovations which could allow for a faster offshore deployment, and a reduction in materials and costs. This means we’re holding a beauty contest to determine the outcome of the most significant energy leasing rounds Scotland has ever seen, rather than a comprehensive test of beauty and brains.
Of course, feasibility and reliability are important when it comes to offshore wind, but given the IEA’s new offshore targets it’s clear that we need to look beyond the technology we currently use, and consider innovations which could get us there quicker.
Instead of asking how many energy generating assets we can develop, we should be questioning how efficiently we can design those structures, and reduce the amount of materials and time it takes to do so. If we really want to scale up the world’s clean energy generating potential and meet global commitments, we must focus on how to develop the technology more efficiently. Scaling up using present-day offshore technology is a sure fire way to fall short.
As project size grows, so have the risks involved. Dogger Bank the world’s largest planned offshore wind farm at 3.6GW will cost an estimated £9 billion. Clearly, a £5 billion project is inherently more risky than a £500 million project, and therefore it is understandable that manufacturers and developers become more risk averse when it comes to selecting partners.
However, this growing risk has already led to consolidation in offshore wind markets where we have seen smaller players crowded out. In offshore wind, only three industry players are manufacturing turbines today, with no agreed industry standard between them.
Between increasing project size, defensive intellectual property rights, and conservative auction rules, there is a real risk that smaller, more innovative players are squeezed out, and the large players lose their nerve in the face of existential risks on every project.
The IEA estimates 50% of the technology needed for net-zero is not yet deployed. However, the offshore wind industry grew complacent with growth, and the barriers to innovation have never been higher. We need bolder, more nimble investors and technology pioneers to drive the innovation needed and focus on innovations that can bring speed to the industry and be applied at a global scale.
Technology exists that can accelerate development, improve the quality of risk and build investor confidence to deploy new concepts at the Giga Scale. By simulating wind farms before they are built, developers can openly share detailed engineering certificates of the exact current condition, giving investors assurance that their assets around the world are performing as expected. Akeslos’ digital twin technology is allowing the world’s largest renewable structures to be simulated and designed more efficiently by using a combination of AI and traditional physics based approaches to computational modelling. Akselos and Lamprell recently proved that the use of this predictive digital twin technology can reduce the steel weight and associated costs of offshore wind jacket foundations by up to 30%.
With enabling technology such as this within our grasp, we should be opening up the conversation with industry and government to consider how we use data and modelling to increase the efficiency of the structures we develop. This is the solution to widening the pathway towards building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions by 2050. For as long as we use feasibility contests to determine who gets to build the next generation of offshore wind farms, we’ll continue to skirt around innovation. After all, beauty is more than skin deep, and the sooner we realise that, the better