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ScotWind: First mover advantage is pointless if you’re not actually first

© Supplied by Equinor/ ?yvind GravScotWind first mover
The final HyWind turbine, destined for the shores off Peterhead leaving Stord in Norway in 2017.

I’m a little bemused.  Inevitably the ScotWind lease awards were going to trigger all sorts of claims about how the Scottish offshore wind supply chain will gain from this huge project, but nobody seems prepared to explain exactly how this will happen given that we don’t actually have a supply chain of any note particularly when it comes to the high value hardware.

All that – namely the turbines, subsea cables and stuff like transformers and switchgear to be part of offshore substations – will be imported and in some cases even from somewhere else in the UK.

Sir Ian Wood says his Energy Transition Zone will have a new Floating Offshore Wind Technology Centre, harnessing first mover advantage. 

In all honesty the idea that having yet another new centre will suddenly propel us to the top of the floating offshore technology wind league table is wrong.

It is already far too late. We are not first movers nor even second movers.

That apart, if we’re to do anything like this I’d base it at Glasgow university where they have extensive knowledge and experience of naval architecture and even have a test tank rather than on an industrial estate in Aberdeen.  In fact why hasn’t Scottish Enterprise as lead economic development agency already organised this?

We know we’re not first movers because there are already companies in other countries building floating offshore wind systems and successfully installing them in Scottish waters and indeed, offshore Portugal.  The best Scottish example is Equinor’s Hywind project.  But there’s also the Kincardine wind farm which as of Oct last year is also providing power to the grid.  Scottish content in both those projects was minimal and certainly didn’t involve high value manufacturing which is what we really need to create a sustainable industry.

ScotWind first mover
Dick Winchester

Last year six European and Japanese companies including Equinor, Shell, Ocean Winds (a joint venture between EDP Renewables and ENGIE), Sumitomo Corporation Global Metals, JGC Japan Corporation, and Toda Corporation – established Japan’s Floating Offshore Wind Group to actively promote floating offshore wind.

Just look at those names.  Which companies has Scotland got that could possibly compete with them or indeed with companies like Vestas, Siemens Gamesa or GE all three of which will undoubtedly manufacture a large number of the turbines that will be used to build the ScotWind windfarms.

In an online discussion with one of our enterprise agencies I was told “We are working closely with Scottish Development International and the UK Govt’s Dept for International Trade on the inward piece and with ESP (Partnership hosted by Dundee and Angus Colleges) and Skills Development Scotland on the skills requirement. At the same time, we are encouraging as many of our indigenous supply chain companies to bring their own expertise to bear.”

Anyone who used phrases like “inward piece” with me gets a vicious sideways look but that apart this tells me that yet again the Enterprise agencies prefer to go for inward investment solutions rather than put the effort into creating an indigenous solution. Encouragement simply isn’t good enough.  We need pro-active action. I often wonder whose side they’re on.

For example, a couple of years ago I asked Parsons Peebles if they thought they could build a generator for an offshore wind turbine. They said yes so why doesn’t one of the enterprise agencies go and make it happen.  Fund them to build one and why not fund Glasgow University to develop a design for a floating platform for a wind turbine.

All that apart the UK Government’s recent announcement of funding for eleven floating offshore wind projects really proves my point.  With £31 million of UK government funding, hopefully matched by more than £30 million of industry funding to develop “innovative floating offshore wind technologies” this is a potentially important boost to this evolving sector.

But it should be noted that only one of the eleven projects is wholly based in Aberdeen and that’s AWC Technology’s articulated wind turbine column design.  There are two other Aberdeen companies involved but as partners. They are Reflex Marine in a five member consortium working on an anchoring system for floating turbine cables and Xodus Group in a four member consortium working on a compact floating foundation with a “novel” anchoring system.

All the other projects are spread across the rest of the UK with the only other Scottish connection being the involvement of the ORE Catapult in Blythe who are involved in the same project as Xodus.

We don’t have time to develop another technology centre. Scotland needs some action and if we don’t get a move on, we’re going to miss out on this huge opportunity just like we have so far with floating wind, fixed offshore wind, onshore wind and of course hydrogen because others are already lining up to take as much as they can away from us.

This is history repeating itself.  You’d think we’d have learnt by now. If we want to fund projects then follow the BEIS example. Go out and ask for proposals.  We’ll make much faster progress like that.

Dick Winchester is a former subsea engineer and an adviser to the Scottish Government on the energy transition.


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