The UK stands on the threshold of becoming the epicentre for floating offshore wind globally. But the clock is ticking and we must act now to invest in the underwater supply chain capability before this window of opportunity slams shut.
The recent announcement by Crown Estate Scotland that seabed leases are being awarded to 13 projects, put forward by eight developers, to produce over 5GW of power from floating offshore wind is the start of an industrial revolution.
Scotwind may have grabbed more headlines back in 2022 and is strategically more significant with a potential £66billion investment in the supply chain as a result of the 17 projects which will generate almost 28GW. But INTOG signals the start of a huge opportunity for the UK to set the technical and operational benchmark in the race to deploy floating offshore wind at scale and at pace.
Perfectly suited to Scotland’s deep waters and oil and gas heritage, floating offshore wind is not only a major step forward in producing cleaner, greener energy, it is also the bridge to the transition with the TOG (Targeting Oil and Gas) part of INTOG centred around decarbonising oil and gas production.
INTOG and Scotwind will bring forward a pipeline of projects that require a step-change in the current supply chain – one on which the energy transition is already placing huge demands. A recent DNV Outlook report uncovered that, while each low carbon industry sector had commissioned its own supply chain studies, there has been no holistic assessment of how the entire supply chain can deliver over the next three decades.
It’s crucial that the UK and Scottish governments fully understand how to support the industrial investment required to ensure the UK supply chain meets the ambition and pledges made by the successful bidders in Scotwind and INTOG.
Without a joined-up supply chain strategy that will enable the necessary investment in the UK, other countries who are already investing in their supply chains will steal a march on us, at the cost of billions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of jobs to the UK.
This is not an empty threat. While we may be a global leader in installed capacity for fixed offshore wind, the potential for the domestic supply chain from this opportunity didn’t materialise. Instead, major components were imported for installation in UK waters because the supply chain in the UK was either underinvested or unprepared and therefore unable to compete with overseas suppliers.
With the INTOG process designed for project delivery by the mid 2020s, these projects will act as a ramp-up platform for Scotwind Projects. They present much more near-term opportunities and that must, surely, focus minds on adequately preparing the supply chain.
These projects not only give confidence to the market but also demonstrate that Scotland is a safe bet for investment. Equally, the supply chain commitments from the developers, with a genuine intent to source products and services from local companies, give further certainty.
With this greater visibility, speed is now of the essence. The experience which suppliers can gain under early-mover INTOG projects will position them well for securing larger opportunities in the longer-term, both domestically and internationally.
The sheer scale of what is required means that the UK supply chain is unlikely to deliver it all. It’s broadly accepted that we will be unable to compete for some of the large-scale fabrication required. But, thanks to our unrivalled underwater ingenuity and engineering, floating offshore wind is where the UK can really make its mark if we grasp the opportunity and invest in the advancement of our already world-leading underwater experience, knowledge, expertise and technology.
The UK Government’s floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme (FLOWMIS), now open to applications from ports for funding from a £160m pot, is welcome but we also need to invest in factories for dynamic cables, mooring and anchor systems and also in commissioning new vessels in readiness for the construction and installation phases.
The high-value manufacturing, assembly, installation and operation of these underwater elements, crucial to floating offshore wind, present the biggest opportunity for the UK supply chain in terms of generating high-skilled, high-paid jobs and exports.
Failure to recognise this subsea potential and strategically invest now in the areas where we are globally competitive, world leaders will mean that we miss out on developing a world-class supply chain, built on the existing technology and capability that exists in the highly transferrable subsea sector.
This is why Global Underwater Hub (GUH) has been building a robust case for government to support the subsea industry as an enabler with the greatest potential to deliver floating offshore wind that maximises the potential for the UK supply chain from both INTOG and Scotwind.
GUH launches assessment of floating wind needs
And with the announcement of INTOG, the organisation is preparing to launch a comprehensive strategic programme for floating offshore wind that will assess the underwater demand from INTOG developers against the current capability. This will include an assessment of the full underwater requirement from design, assembly and installation to operation and maintenance and eventual decommissioning. Our approach will ensure that the dialogue between the supply chain and developers aims to encourage collaboration by focusing on the key areas required to deliver these projects in the necessary timescales.
This assessment will allow us to identify the gaps in capability and capacity and then provide the supply chain with the market intelligence necessary to decide where and when to invest. Armed with this insight, we will work with companies to ensure they are commercially ready for the opportunities as they come onstream.
The underwater industry has decades of experience largely honed in oil and gas. But GUH also works across all sectors – offshore wind, marine renewables, defence, telecommunications and aquaculture. This means that we can take a holistic approach when assessing capability across the entire supply chain.
GUH will be wholly focused on these underwater elements so that our offering and output are tailored to the needs of both developers and the supply chain. Using our unique, impartial position, we will engage and inform key stakeholders. Our access to and knowledge of the underwater supply chain means we can foster dialogue between developers and governmental organisations as well as partner, not compete, with other related industry bodies. We will facilitate cross-sector knowledge transfer to offer solutions to floating offshore wind challenges, identifying common technological problems and promoting collaboration.
This joined-up approach will ensure that the underwater supply chain is as ready as it can be to capitalise on the scale of opportunity presented by INTOG and, in turn, make sure that the UK becomes a first-mover in global floating offshore wind.