Associate Feature: ScotWind’s ambition is world-leading, but we need clearer policy commitments and sharper regulation
Our starting point for ScotWind is one of great optimism, not just for our own commercial prospects, but also for Scotland’s opportunity to lead an innovation-based global export market. And we are not alone in our optimism: last year, Scotland’s offshore wind sector attracted almost as much direct foreign investment as the rest of the world combined.
Having said that, ScotWind is a huge learning curve for everyone involved: not just for us, but also for regulatory bodies. They are working hard to achieve the required grid capacity and to balance the many energy, fisheries, and environmental interests in an ever-more congested seabed.
As an offshore wind developer, we face technological, market and supply risks, which make our projects high-stake and capital-intensive. This is just something we have to work through. Risks related to the regulatory environment are less inevitable, and there is much that can be done to increase certainty in this area.
For this reason, we have two key requests for Government and regulators, which will help provide the clarity, predictability and equitable treatment to all developers – big and small, old and new – that ScotWind requires.
● Consenting: Developers still lack information on key requirements and the pathway to achieving consent for ScotWind projects. This uncertainty impacts not just our project planning but is also passed on to the Scottish supply chain and ports. Many are now seeking investment to expand their offerings and facilities, and they need to have confidence that we will deliver our projects on time. That is why a clear, robust, and practicable consenting roadmap is so vital for all stakeholders in ScotWind.
● Grid and electrical: Achieving timely grid connections remains a burning question for ScotWind. There is concern about delays to our projects due to hold-ups in delivery of grid reinforcement works by transmission owners as well as grey areas in the onshore consenting process. These uncertainties do ramp up the risks for offshore wind development, and we’ve been open about this in our response to the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy. This is an area for urgent action in TWP’s view if we are to realise the world-leading ambition of ScotWind.
It’s worth bringing in the bigger picture here too (beyond the concerns of offshore wind developers) – the future of our marine environment. Upfront, precise regulations don’t just help us but will also be welcomed by environmental, fisheries, and other interest groups as they seek to instil robust protections for wildlife and other maritime industries.
Our joint challenge: delivering on supply chain benefit
TWP, like all ScotWind developers, has set out scenarios for expenditure in the Scottish supply chain – with an ambition to achieve £2.4 billion across both projects. This is not just delivering on targets, the ScotWind group is now competing fiercely to secure manufacturing slots, vessels, cables, and much more. We are also vitally interested in the development of a skilled workforce for the 30 years + that our projects could last.
There are several areas I would highlight for greater targeted investment and some clear milestones embedded in the Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan in its final iteration.
● Port capacity: Like many developers, we have been in active dialogue with ports and harbours adjacent to our projects for some time, trying to align our evolving engineering plans with their development plans in a way that will yield contracts for them, and much-needed certainty for us. The UK Government’s £160m FLOWMIS scheme, if utilised in Scotland, combined with any future Scottish Government funding, can go some way to unlocking this opportunity if done in a coordinated way. An extension of Green Freeport benefits to highly credible contenders like Port of Aberdeen Harbour and Scapa Flow in Orkney would be an attractive and effective complement to the successful, offshore wind focussed bids in Cromarty and Forth too.
● Manufacturing: There also needs to be a realistic assessment of the types of components that Scotland can manufacture competitively. Large-scale manufacturing of turbines and foundations has largely been established overseas at lower cost than is likely to be achieved here (given labour costs and lack of previous track record which tends to swing contracts). Highly automated manufacturing in established construction ports are the curveball factor that could change that in the years ahead, but a clear inward investment strategy and urgent, coordinated investment will be required for any of that to be ready in time for ScotWind.
There are some easy wins that Scotland should not miss in the meantime: the production of innovative blade designs (which requires backing for entrepreneurial ideas like textile-inspired blades, recyclable blades and alternative materials) is one. Allied to this is the bigger question of circular economy, which is an area where Scotland would have a first-mover advantage as well as an established thought-leadership role globally. The forthcoming Circular Economy Bill and route map once again demonstrates how Scotland is prepared to lead where larger countries decline to do so.
In offshore wind, circular economy success stories already exist: Argyllshire’s Renewable Parts has a thriving business in refurbished wind turbine parts, having extended its circular economy facilities in 2021. To expand isolated success stories like this into an integrated and powerful circular economy hub for offshore wind in Scotland, timely investment from Government now will help developers to commit to such approaches in their wind farm plans.
● Small Businesses: While the need for circular economy services for ScotWind projects has a time lag of roughly 20 years, there are a lot of imminent wins for Scottish supply chain. Crucially, many of these can be leveraged by even small engineering, fabrication and manufacturing companies, presenting a particularly compelling opportunity for coastal and island business communities.
As a starter for ten, examples would be manufacturing of small components like: mooring lines, cable protection systems, cranes and platforms, boat landings, cranes, tubulars, cathodic protection systems, navigation systems, gates, hatches, LV electrical systems, grillages for cargo barges, rock for scour protection… and the list goes on. There is also a big role for the developer community to play in addressing the structural and commercial barriers that are making it difficult for SMEs to access these opportunities.
● Exports: Finally, this leads us to the long-term economic opportunity for Scotland, one which traditionally struggles to achieve enough investment support in the UK – early-stage technology innovation. Scotland has a marine research powerhouse, including the universities of Strathclyde, Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh and the University of Highlands & Islands (UHI).
We are already committed to feeding our insights and data into their research programmes to inform future innovation in areas like robotics and data and digital approaches to offshore wind. To support the skills development needed in the workforce too, we are also backing an early-years STEM engagement scheme focussed on offshore wind and led by UHI.
With the right investment backing for early-stage developers, many of whom emerge from these research programmes, Scotland will have a long-term export market for its own homegrown products and services. This is no pipe dream – the UK has led global subsea technology markets since the oil and gas boom of the 1970s in the North Sea, and with industry and state support, we can replicate that success story.
Leveraging the many opportunities from offshore wind will rely upon a stable policy environment where the rules of engagement for developers are clear .
Every ambitious target for offshore wind deployment and economic benefit should also have an investment pledge or at least a clear outline of sources of investment tracked against it. If Scotland can succeed in tightening its regulation and policy in this way, taking pledges down to costed, granular detail, offshore wind will be its economic success story.
This article is sponsored by Thistle Wind Partners
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