Rising energy prices have put a huge squeeze on household budgets and continue to drive inflation. But the energy we need is already all around us, it’s just a lot of it’s untapped!
Did you know renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels, which have soared in price during the war in Ukraine? Onshore and offshore wind and solar power cost about £40 per megawatt hour, but gas fired power generation costs about £140 per megawatt hour.
And some of the most exciting opportunities are around floating offshore wind farms, which the Celtic Sea seems purpose built for.
If you don’t like the look of wind turbines – don’t worry because floating wind farms are much further out to sea! Conventional offshore wind turbines are fixed to the seabed, which means they can only be used in waters up to sixty metres deep. That means around 80% of the exploitable energy resources of our oceans remain largely unharnessed. The International Energy Agency estimates that floating wind turbines could help provide enough electricity to satisfy the world’s electricity needs eleven times over!
The floating wind sector contributed nearly £2.2m to the Welsh economy in recent years. It’s expected to grow significantly over the next decade, with £682m in supply chain opportunities for Wales and Cornwall predicted by 2030!
So what kinds of projects are we going to see?
Blue Gem have proposed Erebus, a 96MW test and demonstration project, which will become one of the largest floating offshore wind projects in the world when constructed in 2026. Erebus will consist of six to ten turbines up to16MW in size. These turbines could be up to two hundred and sixty five metres from sea surface to blade tip, which is about twice the height of the London Eye! Just one rotation provides enough energy to power an entire household for over twenty four hours. Erebus will be followed by Valorous, a 300MW early commercial project, capable of providing green energy to 279,652 homes per year. Both projects are named after famous ships built in Pembroke Dock.
Pembroke Dock based Hiraeth Energy, working in collaboration with Magnora Offshore Wind, will develop two floating wind projects in the Celtic Sea, called Môr Glas and Môr Gwyrdd, with up to 700MW total installed capacity. It’s been reported that these wind farms could power half the homes in Wales! This partnership is particularly exciting as it’s committed to enabling a proportion of community ownership and has ring fenced 10% of the Môr Glas and Môr Gwyrdd projects for this purpose.
Floating wind farms also form part of the £60m Pembroke Dock Marine programme, which aims to place Pembrokeshire at the heart of global zero carbon marine energy innovation.
The Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone, managed by WaveHub, is a 90km2 area of sea, being developed for the demonstration of wave and floating offshore wind technologies with a capacity of up to 180MW.
Pembroke Dock Marine will also include the Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence, providing research, development and demonstration support, developments to Pembroke Port to create spaces that help industry fabricate, launch and maintain devices, and the Marine Energy Test Area, which provides eight low cost, low risk test areas for marine energy developers. The programme is expected to generate £73.5m a year for the regional economy.
But it’s not just Pembrokeshire.
There are also a big opportunities for Port Talbot, who RWE are working with to see whether their port facilities can support a number of gigawatt scale floating wind projects.
At a recent meeting of the Neath Port Talbot Innovation Exchange (which we host in partnership with Neath Port Talbot Council for businesses in the manufacturing and engineering sectors across the county), Andrew Clarke from ABP presented exciting plans for investment in the expansion of the port, specifically with a view to it being a key gateway to Wales’ floating offshore wind sites.
This would see Port Talbot becoming a globally significant production hub by the end of the decade, using the port’s unique combination of deep water access, brownfield land, rail connections, manufacturing capacity and skilled labour. Port Talbot will be where thousands of blades, mooring systems, substructures and cables are made, married up with tower sections and nacelles, and towed out to destination sites.
Swansea based Marine Power Systems have developed the only solution of its type that can be configured to harness both wind and wave energy in deep water. Notably they consider the whole lifecycle of their platforms. With the earliest offshore wind farms already reaching the end of their lives, Marine Power Systems have worked with Swansea University to look at how they can eventually be recovered and recycled back into their component parts.
We don’t always know when the wind will be blowing. But marine renewables are always predictable!
A groundbreaking project proposed for Swansea’s waterfront will see a newly designed tidal lagoon, featuring state of the art underwater turbines generating three hundred and twenty megawatts of renewable energy from the 9.5km structure.
The lagoon is part of the larger Blue Eden project led by DST Innovations which will also include a manufacturing plant to make high tech batteries for renewable energy storage, a battery facility that will store the renewable energy produced (If constructed now, it would be the world’s largest facility of its kind), a floating solar array (This would be the UK’s largest facility of its kind), a data centre (This would be the UK’s first centre of its kind), residential waterfront homes for five thousand people, and approximately a hundred and fifty floating, highly energy efficient eco-homes. All of this will be powered by the renewable energy produced on site!
Blue Eden will create over two thousand five hundred permanent jobs, support a further sixteen thousand jobs across the UK, and create additional jobs during its construction. Subject to planning consent, work could start early next year.
And what about on dry land? If you’re a business, solar energy offers plenty of opportunities.
Could the sun power a hospital? It was hoped a solar farm would supply Morriston Hospital in Swansea with a fifth of its energy consumption every year. But at times it was able to provide all the electricity needed to run the site, even during the winter months, and even sell energy back to the National Grid! It was thought, when fully operational, the scheme would cut carbon emissions by a thousand tonnes and save £500,000 a year, but with energy prices rising, the health board now believes savings could be almost double that figure.
Could the sun power a university? RDM Electrical & Mechanical Services and EFT Consult are working on a highly innovative project to install rooftop and carport solar photovoltaics schemes, as well as a battery energy storage system and electric vehicle chargers at Swansea University. The project will demonstrate how a large site can control its impact on the grid by storing energy generated from renewable sources, drawing down from the grid only when power is cheapest or least carbon intensive.
Could the sun power your business?
Egni Co-op has already installed over 4.5MWp of capacity on ninety sites, including schools, community buildings and businesses.
Swansea BID wants to go even further than that, and is currently crowdfunding for Solar Swansea, a project to create an urban solar farm on the flat roofs of Swansea city centre. This, combined with the Blue Eden project, would potentially make Swansea city centre self-sustaining!
But you don’t always need to think big with solar energy. When Ashley Collins, sole trader of Flynn’s Coffee, wanted to convert her mobile café to run entirely on solar power she was told it couldn’t be done. She taught herself electronics by researching online and watching YouTube videos and now runs her mobile barista venture on solar power while selling her coffee at festivals and events across South Wales, in between basing the business in Swansea Marina.
Energy prices are rising. But renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels. It’s all around us, it’s just a lot of it’s untapped!
4theRegion has been given the opportunity to host a business conference for Swansea that will give local companies a meaningful voice and part to play in the county’s green transition. Energy will be a big part of that! The Swansea Green Recovery Business Conference takes place in Brangwyn Hall on June 27th. You can register your free place here, and if you’d like to be involved, please contact zoe@4theRegion.org.uk