1st Nov 2023

Floating Offshore Wind - Time to embrace industrialisation

To the casual industry observer, it would be all too easy to conclude that the last 12 months have hardly moved the dial in terms of “on field activity” for floating offshore wind (FLOW). Enquire a little bit deeper however, and for those of us immersed in the sector, the last 12 months have unquestionably seen great progress, aligning theoretical principles, with that of the UK’s core supply chain infrastructure capability and the investment needed to derive real market value.

A prime example of this progress is the publishing of the Floating Offshore Wind Task Force 2040 Roadmap, which amongst its valuable insights, recommended a strong and early focus on ports infrastructure. In its report published in March of this year, the Task Force stated the need for up to five Scottish ports to be transformed into new industrial hubs as soon as possible, with a minimum of four additional ports requiring strategic development for manufacturing.

At Global Energy Group (GEG) we own and operate the Port of Nigg, located at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth and considered the geographical heartland of Europe’s offshore wind resource. Aligning with government ambition and industry needs, we have developed a 5-point strategic growth plan, to develop a FLOW “Super Hub”, a strategic plan that can be accelerated as one of Scotland’s Green Freeports, announced in January this year. The port already has unrivalled natural harbour characteristics, with 1.2km of sheltered deep-water quayside and the 5 growth enablers are based on these attributes, as well as GEG’s core competencies of land development, fabrication, assembly, manufacturing, and O&M. Most importantly, we have a highly motivated leadership team focused on making it a reality!

Port of Nigg - Offshore Renewables Superhub

There are many challenges to overcome in converting theory into reality within the emerging FLOW sector but pipeline certainty and the need for standardisation, notably, stand out. While conferences, roundtables, task forces and such like, have a critical role in market development, effective government and industry leadership is essential to streamline processes, reduce individual project bias, and eliminate political obstacles. Port infrastructure and land development require substantial time and capital investments. To unlock the sector's potential, it's time to move beyond discussions and implement supportive policies to initiate the critical infrastructure projects.

While standardisation has been extensively discussed, the question of who leads this, remains a subject of debate. Should it be in the hands of project developers who control the project's development and capital expenditures, or should it be entrusted to OEM’s who can remove constraints from business cases and instil certainty throughout the entire supply chain? This presents a significant opportunity to demonstrate authentic industry leadership and gain first mover advantage.

Even in the supercharged technological era of 5G networks, advanced AI, robotic welding, and the ultra-high-speed fabrication efficiencies achieved through electron beam welding, it is worth remembering that true industrialisation requires a period of social and economic transition, involving the reorganisation of an economy for the purpose of manufacturing at scale. It is against this backdrop, that we can and should benchmark sectoral progress and not that of unrealistic ambition that comes without an execution strategy. That said, the technological tools of efficiency, should at least accelerate FLOW “industrialisation” into a matter of months and years not decades or centuries!

The UK has a remarkable history of turning opportunities into reality. It's not just a one-time feat in transitioning from agriculture to an industrial powerhouse, nor a two-time accomplishment with the harnessing of electricity and the construction of canals, railways, and electric-power lines. The UK has succeeded three times over in the North Sea, with oil and gas exploration and the establishment of intricate and robust supply chains.

Hence, our discussion should shift from merely saying "fortune favours the bold" to understanding that "there is nothing more costly than a missed opportunity." It's time to take action and seize the opportunity.
- Iain Sinclair
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