UK 'must seize chance' to build offshore wind component factories

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RenewableUK and The Crown Estate have published a report highlighting the ‘once in a generation chance’ to attract companies to the UK to build factories that will supply the offshore wind sector.

However, the study warns that unless the UK seizes this opportunity, the manufacturing advantage will be lost to our European competitors.

The study, Building an Industry, quantifies how many wind turbine factories and other manufacturing facilities - such as blades, cables and foundations - will be needed to fulfill the increase in demand up to 2020, not just from projects in UK waters, but to supply the rest of the European offshore wind energy sector too. It also specifies what the UK industry alone will need between now and 2030.

The government’s Renewable Energy Roadmap envisages the potential for 18GW of offshore wind installed by 2020 compared to the 3.3GW installed so far. The rest of Europe combined is expected to match this with another 18GW, to reach a total of 36GW by the end of the decade.

To install this, the report shows that Europe will need 64 major manufacturing facilities. Just over a third of these are already operational, and plans for a further third have been announced.

Fewer than a quarter of these operational and planned facilities are in the UK – even though the UK is planning to build half Europe’s offshore wind farm capacity between now and 2020.

The report also states that by 2030, the UK offshore wind sector will need as many as seven turbine tower factories, seven  blade factories, seven nacelle factories, six factories to build foundations, six factories to build offshore substations and six cable factories.

The sector will also require more than 20 huge seagoing vessels to install offshore turbines, and a further 230 vessels to carry workers to and from the turbines once they are operational.  

According to RenewableUK, this means that between now and 2030 the UK offshore wind sector will need up to 7,930 turbine towers, 23,790 blades, and 9,080km of cables.

However, questions still remain about whether these components be built in the UK.

In a statement RenewableUK’s chief executive, Maria McCaffery said, ‘This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. If we don’t seize it, the large scale offshore wind supply chain factories of the future, making the enormous blades, towers and foundations that we’ll need to retain the UK’s global lead in offshore wind, will be sited elsewhere. The potential to create tens of thousands of green-collar manufacturing jobs hangs in the balance.’

The report was launched at RenewableUK’s annual Offshore Wind conference, which is taking place this week in Manchester.