The UK offshore wind industry, once hailed as a global leader in renewable energy, is facing a critical juncture with the sudden halt of a major offshore windfarm project, coupled with soaring construction costs and a failure to adjust government support putting the industry at risk of falling short of crucial climate crisis goals.
The recent decision by Swedish energy company Vattenfall to halt work on the Norfolk Boreas windfarm has sent shockwaves through the industry. The project, designed to power 1.5 million British homes, was deemed no longer profitable. This development could be a tipping point for the construction of new offshore wind sites unless the government intervenes. Senior energy industry figures warn that a swathe of new projects, essential for meeting climate targets, could become economically unviable under the existing support scheme.
The Cost Inflation Challenge
Offshore wind developers have been grappling with soaring construction costs due to inflationary pressures. Simultaneously, the government has been trying to hold down electricity prices through the contract for difference (CfD) scheme. This scheme is designed to provide investors with certainty over new projects by guaranteeing the price they are paid for energy. However, the maximum prices set by the government, based on 2012 prices, no longer align with the current cost landscape.
A Call for Government Intervention
Industry insiders and experts are urging the government to take bold and swift action to address the challenges facing the offshore wind industry. Failure to do so could jeopardize the ambitious targets set by the government and hinder progress towards decarbonizing the electricity system by 2035 and achieving net-zero by 2050. The withdrawal of Vattenfall from the Norfolk Boreas windfarm could be just the beginning unless immediate action is taken.
Jan Matthiesen, head of offshore wind at the Carbon Trust thinktank, warns that the maximum prices set by the government are now too low. He emphasizes the need for bold action to prevent further withdrawals from projects. Adam Berman, a deputy director of Energy UK, highlights the importance of a financially sustainable regime to avoid major project delays or cancellations. The industry is at a critical juncture, and the government must act swiftly to ensure its success.
The Importance of Offshore Wind
Offshore wind plays a crucial role in the government’s climate targets and its commitment to decarbonizing the electricity system. The UK aims to quadruple its offshore wind capacity from about 14 gigawatts to 50 gigawatts by 2030. This expansion is essential for achieving the country’s net-zero goals and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Offshore wind has the potential to provide clean, affordable, and reliable green energy to millions of homes across the UK.
The Consequences of Inaction
If the government fails to address the funding crisis and provide the necessary support, the consequences could be severe. Major projects could be delayed or abandoned, jeopardizing the UK’s position as a world leader in offshore wind energy. The industry’s ability to contribute to climate targets would be compromised, and the UK’s reputation would suffer. It is crucial to put in place a financially sustainable regime that maximizes investment opportunities and instills developer confidence in the sector.
To address the funding crisis and support the offshore wind industry, the government has increased the subsidy pot for new renewables projects by £22 million. While this is a step in the right direction, industry experts believe that additional funding alone may not be enough to solve the problem. It is essential for the government to reassess the maximum prices set under the CfD scheme and align them with the current cost landscape. A modest increase in the maximum price of offshore wind energy could help make projects economically viable while still maintaining its status as a cost-effective energy source.
The Government’s Response
Officials from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero have indicated that the government is willing to intervene. They highlight the effectiveness of the contracts for difference scheme in securing progress in offshore wind and protecting generators against price fluctuations. The move to annual auctions, introduced in response to industry demands, is expected to boost investment and developer confidence. The government acknowledges the supply chain pressures faced by the sector globally and is actively listening to the concerns of the industry.