The UK is set to be at the forefront of a new era of renewable energy as plans for some of the biggest floating wind farms in the world have been unveiled.
As the deployment of offshore renewable energy accelerates around the world, floating wind farms are expected to play an increasingly significant role in the global energy mix, with the ability to be anchored in deeper waters than familiar fixed-base turbines. This means that new areas of the seabed can be used for the generation of renewable energy, where wind patterns are stronger and more reliable, supporting the UK’s move away from fossil fuels and strengthening its energy security.
Today (7th December 2023), The Crown Estate, which manages the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has set out further details of a new leasing round for three commercial-scale floating wind projects in the Celtic Sea off the coast of South Wales and South West England. The projects have the potential to deliver enough clean, renewable energy for more than four million homes.
The new wind farms will have a combined capacity of up to 4.5GW and are expected to be the first phase of commercial development in the region, with the UK Government confirming as part of its Autumn Statement in November 2023 its intention to unlock space for up to a further 12GW of capacity in the Celtic Sea.
This latest leasing programme will be known as Round 5, following four previous leasing rounds by The Crown Estate, which have helped establish the UK as one of the leading offshore wind markets in the world, with almost half as much operational capacity as the rest of Europe combined.
A new chapter for offshore wind
As a company for the country, The Crown Estate exists to create the best value it can for the nation and for future generations, including social, environmental and financial. Working in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders, it aims to play its part in responding to major challenges such as climate change, nature loss and enabling economic growth.
This is reflected in the ground-breaking approach it has taken to Round 5, not just supporting the establishment of a new industry and ensuring it creates new social and economic opportunities, but enabling its success through upfront investment in important workstreams to de-risk the process for developers and accelerate the deployment of projects.
This includes a multi-million-pound programme of marine surveys to better understand the physical and environmental properties around the locations of the new wind farms, as well as carrying out a Plan-Level Habitats Regulations Assessment early on in the process.
An Information Memorandum published today (7th December 2023) also includes details of a series of contractual commitments for developers to create positive social and environmental impacts, focused on skills and training, tackling inequalities in employment, environmental benefits and working with local communities. Bidders will also be required to demonstrate commitments for the timely access to the port infrastructure needed to successfully develop their projects.
New supply chain opportunities
Round 5 will be the first time floating wind farms have been deployed on commercial scale, presenting a number of supply chain opportunities as the market matures.
The Crown Estate has commissioned new research, due to be published in the new year, to provide a view on how best to maximise the economic and social benefits arising from Round 5 and the longer-term sustainable development of the offshore wind industry.
The Crown Estate has also outlined its intention to bring forward a new pilot fund to help accelerate supply chain projects, with an initial focus on opportunities arising from Round 5. Further details are expected to be set out in the first part of 2024.
Dan Labbad, Chief Executive of The Crown Estate said:
“The UK’s offshore market is one of the most successful in the world and floating wind is the next chapter in this exciting story, backed up by recent support from UK Government to unlock further important capacity over the coming years.
“At its core, The Crown Estate’s role is to serve the country by using its land and seabed to create the best value we can for the nation and for future generations – including social, environmental and financial. This means drawing on the skills, knowledge and input from our full range of stakeholders as we seek to play our part in responding to some of the biggest challenges, whether that’s climate change, nature loss or enabling economic growth.
“This approach has underpinned the development of Round 5, which is the culmination of years of engagement across governments, environmental bodies, industry and other stakeholders. As the collaboration and partnerships that have brought us this far continue, this opportunity stands to be a game-changer for business and communities associated with these projects, as we realise the full potential of floating wind in the Celtic Sea and beyond.”
Minister of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Graham Stuart said:
“Floating offshore wind is a huge opportunity for Wales and the South West, with the potential to deliver billions of pounds of direct investment whilst bolstering our energy independence and net zero ambitions.
“Today’s plans will build on the Government’s ambition to deploy up to 5GW of floating offshore wind by 2030. Together with The Crown Estate I look forward to bringing more capacity online, through our plans to see up to 16GW deployed in the Celtic Sea through the 2030s.”