Floating offshore wind farm success could pave way for Scotland’s renewables future

Floating offshore wind platforms could hold the key to Scotland’s renewable energy future: setting the nation apart as an offshore wind pioneer while revitalising communities across Scotland. Richard Cockburn, Partner and Head of the Energy sector at Womble Bond Dickinson explains.

Offshore wind, expected to play a big role in the future of power generation off our coasts, has been demonstrating steadily its viability on a small wind farm 25km off the Peterhead coast, and it could have a huge impact on the Scottish offshore wind sector.

Equinor’s Hywind farm – notable because it was the world’s first floating offshore wind farm – has been named as the best-performing wind farm in the UK. As a small wind farm of 30MW capacity, it doesn’t generate the most power, but it has been delivering at a higher percentage of its capacity than any other UK offshore wind farm, and it has done so for three consecutive years.

This means that, since it became operational in 2017, Hywind has been demonstrating neatly the potential commercial value of floating offshore wind.

It’s the timing of the news that is most significant, though. Scotland’s current offshore wind licensing round, ScotWind, includes deep-water sites that are regarded widely as being best suited to floating wind farms.

But seeing the huge sums raised by in the Round 4 offshore wind leasing process in England this year, Crown Estate Scotland had to pause the ScotWind leasing round whilst it worked out if it could achieve better value from the market.

The news of continuing success from Hywind, underlining the potential of floating offshore wind as a viable technology, therefore arrived with impeccable timing.

There is considerable interest in the ScotWind leasing round, and it is widely believed that bidders will include oil and gas majors looking to build their clean energy portfolios quickly – just as we saw in Round 4.

It’s outstanding news for Scotland: in time, this could fuel industrial development significantly and have a huge impact on supply chains across the nation. We believe this will be a major boost for communities, too.

Communities and skills

The collective nervousness among Scotland’s many workers in offshore oil and gas is palpable: what does the transition to clean energy mean for precious jobs in communities that have depended on oil and gas for so long?

Well, the investment in offshore wind, including the potential that floating offshore has for Scotland, should provide a major boost to these communities. It could bring jobs, investment, skills and talent to the fore especially if the government can secure supply chain investment locally.

It has been estimated that up to 17,000 jobs and £33.6bn of GVA could be generated by floating offshore wind across the UK by 2050. A good example is the 50MW Kincardine Offshore Windfarm, located about 15km south east of Aberdeen and currently being installed, which is forecast to create around 110 jobs during assembly, installation and ongoing operations and maintenance activities.

While the UK’s target of 1GW of floating wind power by 2030 might seem slight compared to the targets for fixed-bottom installations, the flexibility that floating power affords the sector will play right into Scotland’s hands.

Meanwhile the chance to invest in floating wind will help to differentiate Scotland’s offer and to position the nation at the forefront of offshore wind development.

There is undoubtedly a long way to go, but those looking for the green shoots of recovery for Scotland’s energy sector should definitely be paying very close attention to the progress of the ScotWind process and to the potential of floating offshore wind.

Richard Cockburn, Partner and Head of the Energy sector at Womble Bond Dickinson

Richard will be part of the panel at our upcoming webinar “Kick-starting Scotland’s Green Economic Recovery” on May 13, find out more and how to book your free place here.