By Anne Haase, Renewables Director at Aquaterra Energy

I’m heading to WindEurope at a crucial time for the offshore wind sector. Global expansion continues at pace, with wind installations set to reach a record 18.4GW in 2023.

But can we reach ambitious 2030 targets, never mind those set for 2050? The will is there, but it’s not going to be a breeze. From manufacturing and supply chain constraints and capacity, to significant technical challenges, there are a number of factors which threaten to blow the sector off course if not addressed effectively.

Let’s not forget that offshore wind is the backbone of the transition – without a significant ability to generate green electrons, we won’t get near net zero. Three is a magic number, so here’s what I am counting on the industry to focus on to meet offshore wind deployment goals and accelerate the industry through 2023 and beyond.

Open up to smaller fields

A robust regulatory system is absolutely needed to support the sector, but working with offshore wind developers has taught me that the bid process is expensive and ties up significant resources. This means that large developers need to be incredibly focused on the acreages that they believe can fit their business model.  This naturally pushes them towards large developments which follow their standard delivery model and contracting process. While these large developments are game-changing and grab the headlines, they take a long time to deliver.

I believe there’s an opportunity for us to think bigger by also focusing on smaller. Small windfarms don’t grab headlines, but they also don’t rely on a supply chain which is already creaking. Additionally, they support local content, knowledge transfer and the democratisation of the industry.

Climate change is a global issue and there’s several potentially smaller fields that can be developed quickly using local content and resource using turbines at the smaller end of the scale. One wind farm like this may not make a difference – but 50 will. Is there room for a small, specialised developer to create this market?

Let’s cut to the chase on floating wind

While small is beautiful, if you are going big, then go deep. Over 80% of offshore wind potential is in waters deeper than 60 meters and the best wind resources are in locations where bottom-fixed installation just won’t work.

The bottom-fixed wind sector has been brilliant at creating momentum and proving that wind is key to a green energy system, building the foundation for an entire industry. But now we need to scale it. The floating wind sector very soon will have a “hold my beer” moment with bottom-fixed. There’s a number of key demo projects running at the moment which will determine the standard for the sector and this is a market where first mover advantage will really count.

As the industry pushes further offshore, there are some new technical considerations for wind to tackle and a real opportunity for cross-sector collaboration. The wind sector understands wind, the oil and gas sector understands deep and ultra-deepwater.

Coupling these industry skills to accelerate deployment will support acceleration of large, capital-intensive projects. The heritage oil and gas sector has designed, constructed and maintained floating offshore structures for decades, and this expertise shouldn’t be ignored. Experience in dynamic risers, global analysis, cabling and mooring systems, can be directly and immediately applied to accelerate confidence in the deployment of floating offshore wind.

We need to start thinking about connected energy systems – that include nature

Now this is a complex one. I see a lot of projects which solely focus on wind or wave or hydrogen.  But there’s a danger we follow the path of the last energy revolution and learn nothing by falling into the trap of tunnel vision. All offshore sectors can overlap in important ways and collaborations and connection are key. For example, much of what I focus on every day looks at how offshore wind can be the backbone of the green hydrogen sector.

I believe that each of us can look at what we do in our daily work life – delivering projects – and step slightly outside the realms of our project to consider connected build out strategies. Do we want to only deliver a project, or do we also want to make a positive impact by seeking build out soft gains?

Offshore wind to hydrogen is core to the transition, but as we build these mega projects are we thinking in a connected way? Let’s step outside the realms of our projects and not just look at achieving the output goals, but also solving other parallel environmental problems. The hydrogen industry is talking about pushing towards seawater electrolysis – but we risk ignoring the potential of solving an environmental problem on our doorstep – grey water.  Some of the facilities we are looking at developing will use up to 400m3 water per hour. That’s a big environmental consideration if we are basing it on seawater desalination and something we need to approach mindfully.

By taking a connected approach, we can use purified grey water to feed the electrolysis process and solve this issue by making water management circular. This mindset shift can provide the wind sector with an opportunity to position itself as the bedrock of a wider movement and I am happy to be part of that.

See you at WindEurope23!

Get in touch to chat with Anne at WindEurope this year or click here to learn more about our offshore wind expertise.