Powering ahead with offshore wind

This year marks the fifth anniversary of SSE becoming a large-scale participant in offshore wind through the acquisition of the Airtricity renewable energy business and I think it’s the year that SSE is coming of age as an offshore wind developer and operator. Three things illustrate the point.

Our first major operating offshore wind farm, Greater Gabbard (500MW) - in which we have a 50% stake - is proving to be a robust and productive asset which is exceeding our expectations. Total output in the three months to 30 June was 222 GWh, and it has consistently generated above our forecasts.

At the end of May, the DECC Secretary of State granted consent for the development of Galloper offshore wind farm – which is effectively the sister project to Greater Gabbard. With a predicted capacity of up to 504MW this project has the potential to generate significant amounts of renewable energy and bring new investment and jobs to the UK. 

Most recently, our Beatrice offshore project (1GW) based in the Moray Firth passed a significant milestone when the Highland Council Planning Committee (North) unanimously decided not to raise any objection to the project.  The decision to consent the project is now with Marine Scotland and Scottish Ministers.

Despite the leadership position on offshore wind currently held by the UK, and the progress being made by SSE and other developers, it is still an industry in the early stages of growth that could fail to reach its potential if it doesn’t drive down costs through learning and innovation. 

SSE has gained valuable expertise and experience through the development, construction and operation of Greater Gabbard, and its involvement (25.1% share) in the Walney offshore wind farm, alongside Dong, the world’s largest offshore wind operator.  This knowledge feeds right back into the development process for projects such as Galloper and Beatrice and allows us to make informed and disciplined judgements about the most realistic way to progress with our development pipeline.

Our approach is therefore very much step-by-step, learning from our experience, working with strong partners and constantly applying financial rigour to our decisions.

Our experience and partnership approach is also driving innovation in how we operate assets. For example, we have established a dedicated operations centre for Greater Gabbard in Lowestoft, creating over 100 new jobs as a result. This team is focused on maximising the availability of the asset and finding new innovative ways to reduce costs by operating and maintaining the wind farm more efficiently.

Greater Gabbard is the first offshore wind farm in the UK to regularly airlift technicians directly onto turbines to undertake maintenance operations, reducing the duration of outages and maximising the turbines availability to generate. We are also testing the use of remote controlled helicopter ‘drones’ to inspect turbines and blades, which significantly reduces the risks involved in undertaking these inspections and the amount of time technicians have to spend offshore. 

Along with Siemens, we are about to commence trials of an offshore maintenance/accommodation support vessel. This will operate offshore at the wind farm on a full time basis during the summer months, allowing planned service activities to continue uninterrupted and greatly increasing the productivity of service technicians who will no longer need to make the three hour round trip sea journey each day. It will also reduce the amount of scheduled servicing that would need to take place during winter months when conditions are more challenging and unpredictable.

We continue to see offshore wind as an important element in a balanced portfolio of renewable energy assets, consistent with our position as the leading generator of renewable energy across the UK and Ireland.

Britain is already the world leader in offshore wind, with more installed capacity than the rest of the world combined. It certainly has the potential to continue as the world leader and enjoy all of the economic benefits that come with that. But as the IPPR recently concluded in its report‘Pump up the volume’this potential will not be realised without investment at scale, which helps build a UK supply chain and ultimately bring down costs in a significant way.

A stable, long-term policy framework is critical to this investment taking place and alongside everything else we have learned, SSE, and every other developer, will need to see robust, investable support mechanisms in place before it takes the next steps along its development pipeline.

 

 

About the author

Jim Smith Managing Director, Generation

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