By Andrew Stormonth-Darling, ORE Catapult Programme Manager for the Offshore Wind Innovation Hub
The UK Government recently reaffirmed its intention to increase cross-sector spend on Research & Development (R&D) from 1.7% to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. In addition, the Offshore Wind Sector Deal underlines the industry’s commitment to ‘increased competitiveness and continuing cost reduction’.
This is all music to the ears of those working hard to foster innovation across offshore wind. As the Programme Manager for the Offshore Wind Innovation Hub – the UK’s primary coordinator for innovation, focusing on offshore wind energy cost reduction and maximising UK economic impact – I have the pleasure of engaging with a diverse range of people, from CEOs of major industry organisations to small innovators, discussing the broad spectrum of technology innovation; where it is needed and how we should actually go about achieving it.
Such clear intent from the UK Government and industry is fantastic – and is very much in keeping with the global trends for supporting green technology development in the fight against the climate emergency – but any public or private spend to boost innovation must of course be targeted and applied in the right places to have maximum impact.
So, what are the ‘right places’?
Do we target technologies that will enable large-scale expansion of offshore wind sites in UK waters? Or do we support solutions that are more likely to lead to UK intellectual property that can then be exported abroad?
I think the answer is we need both! If we aren’t able to remove barriers to energy integration to the grid, for example, we will fail to achieve the planned roll out of sites off the UK coast. In this scenario our local supply chain will suffer, and we won’t meet our net-zero targets.
However, this alone will not be enough to ensure significant volumes of jobs are created. To achieve this, we need to focus on our strengths – a strong academic and growing skills base in sectors such as data, artificial intelligence and robotics. This will lead to the products, services, knowledge and competence in these highly skilled industries that can then be exported around the world.
On top of this, innovation doesn’t just have to be focused on product design – it can be around process too. For example, our consents and licensing process in the UK is getting bogged down due to the increasing build-out in UK waters and we must find innovative ways of sharing information and understanding risk that is acceptable to all parties involved. Another example could be the way in which the development community selects who to contract with in their supply chain: here we need to find new ways of giving greater confidence to investors who are otherwise reluctant to support UK suppliers from scaling up.
Lastly, we need to look further down the line: there are two key areas where the UK is very well placed to succeed due to our extensive experience in the oil and gas sector. Skilled oil and gas workers have many transferable skills that enable a smooth move into renewables and our oil and gas corporate know-how and lessons learned should be actively applied to developing floating offshore wind technology and offshore wind decommissioning – two key areas that have an increasing global market potential. If we get cracking now, the UK can establish a leading position globally in these crucial segments of the market.
Through its Technology Roadmaps, the Offshore Wind Innovation Hub has narrowed this complicated picture down to five key themes on which innovation should be focused:
But how do we actually implement, incentivise and invigorate the offshore wind community to ensure this innovation is realised?
That’s something I’ll tackle in my next instalment.