The Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s energy analyst Tom Quinn has identified five key trends that he predicts will take off in 2020 in the world of offshore renewable energy.
1. The long-awaited UK energy policy white paper will be published by the Government
The UK Government is expected to publish a white paper on energy policy during 2020. Given the rapid pace of developments in the offshore renewable energy space, we expect to see specific support for innovation.
Building on work led by ORE Catapult and RenewableUK over the past two years, we hope the white paper will include details on routes to market for floating wind and tidal stream energy.
2. New market entrants
This could well include at least one oil and gas operator announcing plans to install floating wind to power offshore platforms in the North Sea.
It could also be the year for big tech firms to leverage their next generation digital tools in the offshore renewables sector through direct stakes or collaboration agreements.
3. Hydrogen gathers momentum
Firms are investigating how hydrogen can aid in the integration of offshore wind-generated electricity into the current and future grid networks.
The ability to produce, store and transport hydrogen from excess wind power commercially would transform the UK energy sector.
With the UK’s oil and gas expertise, we could see at least one big player announce plans to adapt existing gas infrastructure to use hydrogen generated from offshore wind farms.
4. First wind project taking financial investment decision on a merchant basis
Wind developers and their financial backers historically looked to de-risk projects with guaranteed price (e.g. strike price) and offtake (all power produced can be sold).
2018 saw zero-subsidy awards in Germany, but with offtake guaranteed. 2019 saw the first offshore wind auctions in the UK with strike prices likely to be below wholesale price, meaning there may be no cost to the taxpayer for those projects coming online from 2023.
While many developers will want to maintain the security of guaranteed price, we expect to see the first UK project sanctioned in 2020 outside a state support framework for the entire project life.
The returns on offer are potentially much higher, but it comes with risk if energy prices fall.
5. Data and digital challenges and opportunities
2020 could see further advancements in cybersecurity. ORE Catapult is tackling this growing issue head on under the Wind Digital Innovations Forum which looks to develop a digital transformation roadmap and cybersecurity standards for the UK wind industry in its first year.
During 2020, advancements in drone technology could allow spare parts to be delivered to an offshore wind farm for repair. Vessel costs are a large cost component of operations and maintenance, so reducing the requirement for vessels will keep the sector competitive.
ORE Catapult is one of the companies spearheading the robotics and autonomous systems technology in offshore wind this year through projects such as MIMRee.
The MIMRee (Multi-Platform Inspection Maintenance and Repair in Extreme Environments) project looks to combine cross-sector robotics and AI expertise to prove that offshore wind maintenance missions can be conducted by unmanned robots.