We have a first class floating offshore wind industry ready to go in the region. It has seen the fastest growth in the Welsh marine energy sector, adding £11.6m to the economy last year, with the potential to generate £1bn over the next five years! It offers a once in a generation opportunity to build a new pioneering industry both for the region and the whole of the UK.
While traditional offshore wind turbines are built into the seabed with fixed foundations, floating turbines sit on large floating steel structures which are then tethered to the seabed. This allows the turbines to be placed further out at sea in locations with higher winds, such as Pembrokeshire.
The Crown Estate has announced details of leasing opportunities that are expected to be the first round of developing floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea. They will work to catalyse and accelerate the UK’s energy transition, and de-risk developments to speed up their deployment. Three Project Development Areas (PDAs) of roughly equal size are being proposed, each with a potential capacity of 1.5GW. This means the overall capacity for the leasing round will be 4.5GW, an increase from a possible 4GW from the four PDAs of varying sizes originally proposed. Overall this will generate enough clean energy capacity to power over four million homes.
The Crown Estate says the leasing round will be used to drive broader social and economic value. This includes requiring developers to set out specific commitments to ports, as well as establishing binding commitments on wider issues such as enhancing skills, addressing environmental impacts, and delivering community benefits.
Ultimately the Crown Estate believes there is the potential to generate 20GW of energy from floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea.
Marine renewables are crucial in combatting climate change and achieving a diverse and reliable energy mix for current and future generations. And the Welsh Government has said floating offshore wind farms will create thousands of high quality, long-term jobs. It is quickly becoming a proven technology with the potential to deliver sustainable sources of energy and enable us to make the transition to net zero. It generates more power per megawatt than any other renewable source, and the UK’s unique wind resource and shallow seas mean it has been the central technology in plans to end our reliance on fossil fuels.
However plans for the first floating wind farm in the region stalled after no developers bid at a crucial government auction.
There were bids for onshore solar, wind and geothermal schemes as well as tidal however these generate on a lower scale to giant offshore wind farms.
Blue Gem Wind is developing plans for Wales’ floating wind farm, called Erebus, which they say would create ten thousand jobs. It did not bid for a contract because they said the government was not providing enough support through its “contracts for difference” scheme in which it steps in if the market price for electricity falls below the agreed level.
Erebus, due to be commissioned in 2026 and built twenty five miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, would have seen the region kickstart the floating offshore wind industry. It would be the third floating offshore wind farm in the UK, but the estimated 100MW generated is more than double the other projects. It will house seven 14MW turbines on floating platforms and provide enough low carbon energy to power ninety three thousand homes. The project will provide jobs for biologists, ornithologists, ecologists, geologists, skippers, boat crew, port staff, crane operators, divers, engineers, welders, electricians, technicians, logisticians, administrators and project managers.
The UK Government has since said it will increase the contracts for difference from £44 per MWh to £73 in the next annual auction.
And of course, Erebus isn’t the only floating offshore wind projects planned for the region.
Floventis Energy’s Llŷr 1 and 2 developments will power about two hundred thousand homes with 200MW of clean energy once operational by 2027-28. With an operational life of twenty five years, each of the Llŷr projects will have six to eight turbines, all of which will produce over 12MW.
And Gwynt Glas (a joint venture between EDF Renewables UK and DP Energy), RWE, and a collaboration between Hiraeth Energy and Magnora are all aiming to secure at least 1GW of installed capacity, to be developed throughout the 2020s.
A key aspect of Hiraeth Energy and Magnora’s initial project, Môr Glas, is community ownership. The aim is to establish a wealth fund providing returns for Welsh communities. This is inspired by fossil fuel funds in oil rich countries, such as the £1tn fund from oil and gas revenues generating returns of nearly 6% a year for the people of Norway.
Ports are expected to play a key role in the manufacture and storage of the numerous components needed for floating offshore wind farms, including foundation assembly, cabling and placing the turbines on top of the floating foundations. The ports must be relatively close to project sites so that the turbines can be floated out to their final locations.
The massive turbines float on a thirty metre high base the size of a football pitch. On top of that is a turbine over three hundred metres tall, that’s as tall as the Eiffel Tower! Because they’ll require a lot of materials, Port Talbot is seen as a perfect location because it’s next to the steelworks.
Milford Haven is likely to be a centre for early phase testing, fabricating anchors and anchor chains for floating wind platforms, high speed transfer vehicles and robotics.
Port Talbot and Milford Haven are part of the Celtic Freeport, which will help create tens of thousands of new, high quality jobs in the green industries of the future. The Welsh Government hopes freeports will focus on low carbon technologies, such as floating offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture, utilisation, and storage and biofuels.
Of course we don’t always know when the wind will be blowing, but the tides are always predictable!
Tidal stream generators draw energy from water currents in much the same way as wind turbines draw energy from air currents.
Four turbine developers linked to Morlais in Anglesey, were awarded contracts for difference. The Marine Energy Test Area in Pembrokeshire, the only pre-consented, pre-commercial test facility of its kind in Wales, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Morlais to address common challenges, encourage business and research collaboration, and exchange knowledge and best practices.
Tidal lagoons are power stations that generates electricity from the natural rise and fall of the tides.
A large volume of water is captured behind a fabricated structure which is then released to drive turbines. Tidal lagoons are a more efficient way of producing energy than traditional offshore wind farms, and their operating life is estimated to be about four times longer.
Mark Drakeford has said he wants to “make Wales a world centre for emerging tidal technology”. At least three research projects, announced next spring, will be receiving £750,000 in funding to help address the barriers preventing the development of tidal lagoon technology.
A tidal lagoon could also form part of the £4bn Swansea Port Development Project, formerly Blue Eden, in SA1. The plans, which will encompass the best in sustainable technology, could also include floating and onshore solar facilities, a hyperscale data centre powered by renewable energy, an oceanic and climate change research centre, eco-homes anchored in the water, a district heating system, a green energy transport hub with a hydrogen manufacturing station, and a facility manufacturing batteries to store renewable energy for worldwide distribution. It would also act as a catalyst for further innovation in renewable technology.
Tomorrow we’re hosting a major regional conference and exhibition, bringing together projects, businesses, organisations and key stakeholders in South West Wales’ green economy, together with people of all ages and from all walks of life, for an unmissable day of connecting, showcasing and knowledge sharing, with the goal of getting everyone working together for a resilient, sustainable future for the region. Book your FREE tickets here.