U.K. Needs Sea-Turbine Innovation as Farms Flail, Adviser Says

The U.K. must develop offshore-wind technology faster or risk higher costs, the Carbon Trust said.

Innovations in turbines and the equipment to install, connect and maintain the machines could cut costs for the power they generate by as much as 25 percent by 2020, said Phil de Villiers, head of offshore wind at the adviser to business and government. It currently costs about 150 pounds ($246) a megawatt-hour, he said in an interview in London.

Britain is under pressure to reduce costs because it’s relying on turbines at sea to meet European Union climate goals. Scottish Power Ltd. canceled a wind farm in December because technology such as installation vessels and foundations hadn’t developed fast enough for the complex project. RWE AG axed a 4.5 billion-pound farm off England in November citing technical hurdles.

“If we’re serious about getting the cost down for the consumer, then we should be making sure we have the best innovative technology to deliver that goal,” de Villiers said. “Innovation must happen more quickly to catch up with development.”

The U.K. is seeking to reduce offshore wind costs to 100 pounds a megawatt-hour by 2020 to make it cheaper for consumers who pay for subsidies. The biggest share of cost reduction comes from innovations in the turbine itself, with manufacturers such as Vestas Wind Systems A/S and Samsung Heavy Industries Co. already working on larger machines, according to the London-based Carbon Trust.

Complex Projects

Similar innovations in foundations, representing 30 percent of the wind farm’s cost, are lacking, de Villiers said.

“Below the water, you’ve got players whose core business isn’t to make offshore turbine technology,” he said. “You have a problem where the industry needs to innovate, but the big players aren’t likely to do that themselves.”

Projects are getting larger and farther from shore, making installation more complex. The Carbon Trust runs a program with developers including Dong Energy A/S, SSE Plc and EON SE called the Offshore Wind Accelerator to encourage innovations.

The venture seeks novel designs for sea-based wind technology including foundations that work on sandy or clay seabed as well as harder soils. It’s spurred demonstrations with meteorological masts of two designs at the Dogger Bank and Hornsea wind farms off the coast of Yorkshire. It also has an 18 million-pound fund to test three further novel foundations at offshore turbines.

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