Fugro: How offshore wind is evolving to hit 2050 net zero targets

In order to shift to a low-carbon economy, offshore wind is essential.

The business has grown tremendously in recent years as the US is developing quickly, countries bordering the North Sea routinely increase their gigawatt capacity targets, and Asia Pacific quickly catches up. So is having the goal of reaching net zero in 2050 sufficient?

The World Wind Energy Council estimates that for the globe to reach the net zero target—currently set at roughly 30 GW—capacity will need to increase to 450 GW by 2030 and to 1150 GW by 2050. If all goes according to plan, offshore wind will generate up to 25% of the world’s electricity by 2050. These goals, along with the need for greener energy, are what are causing transformation in the offshore wind industry.

Technical developments

Larger wind turbines are entering harsher settings, as are floating substructures. This has brought to light a problem that we will have to deal with in the upcoming years: there aren’t nearly enough people or ships to survey, set up, and maintain all of the offshore wind projects in the world.

Yet, there are currently remote-controlled and autonomous vessels accelerating surveys, eliminating people from danger, and enhancing the efficiency, productivity, and cost-effectiveness of offshore wind activities.

The amount of geodata needed for planning has expanded enormously as a result of larger turbines and locations. In response, improvements in the supply of cloud-based data and analysis powered by AI are optimising design and engineering tasks, accelerating decision-making, and assisting teams in engaging stakeholders in a more transparent manner.

Financial and regulatory environment

The approval process for an offshore wind farm typically takes five years, two years longer than the actual construction period. The planning process is intended to be sped up by regulatory scrutiny in the US, Europe, and the UK. Yet, if quick judgements are made without properly considering their environmental impact, we won’t be able to build a more sustainable energy system because we risk having unanticipated, cumulative effects on the marine ecosystem. With open data sharing, ocean scientific programmes are assisting in expanding the information basis for decision-making, resulting in more confidence about potential effect mitigation.

Offshore wind is attracting investment due to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, particularly from long-term investors like pension funds. But in order to assist cut capital costs, greater competition between potential ESG funds is simultaneously raising the demand for information and clarity. These needs will be met in part through improved environmental monitoring, more thorough environmental information, and more efficient data distribution.

Coordinated grid infrastructure

A strong and well-coordinated grid infrastructure is necessary given the increasing growth of offshore wind turbines. In contrast, the UK’s market-oriented strategy has led to many substations, one for each offshore wind farm. Local councils and communities find this frustrating because they feel forced to tolerate more unattractive electrical infrastructure than is necessary. Timelines for planning are then delayed by their understandable objections. In contrast, the coordinated government strategy in the Netherlands enables developers to concentrate on what they do best: creating offshore wind assets.

In order to reduce or share additional grid infrastructure at the local level, many national-level strategic initiatives are being put into place, such as England’s Offshore Transmission Network Review and Denmark’s and Belgium’s plans to connect to new offshore “energy islands.” The nine nations in the North Sea region are coordinating activities through programmes like the North Seas Energy Cooperation.

All grid infrastructure is created using precise ground models, and analysis is being sped up by modern data analytics. Analysis of the Law of the Sea, which establishes a legal framework for all marine and maritime activities, and of the seabed will be very beneficial in assisting many countries wishing to coordinate grid infrastructure in choosing the most suitable areas offshore.

Public approval

Many planning regulations mandate that local stakeholders, including the general public, be consulted. Yet, it is also wise to minimise the possibility of legal challenges and protests when putting the renewable energy we need to reach net zero targets by 2050 into service. In general, offshore wind is well received by the general people. According to the most recent Public Opinions Tracker, 85% of people actively support offshore wind, 9% are indifferent, and 6% are against it. Grid infrastructure is typically met with strong criticism since it is aesthetically unappealing. Grid infrastructure should decrease in the future with better coordination between substation siting and the connection of export cables to the substations because there should be less grid infrastructure for more electricity.

The public is interested in the creation of jobs. Due to the need for leases and subsidies, there have been encouraging initiatives taken to increase local and long-term employment in offshore wind manufacture, installation, and maintenance. Businesses further down the supply chain are also making investments locally: developers are establishing educational or professional transfer programmes and remote operations centres are generating onshore employment.

Impact on the environment

Planning for the offshore wind industry has always been closely scrutinised. The planning processes take time. In Europe, finding locations takes an average of two years, getting approval takes at least four years, and the final two years are spent getting everything ready for building. Because of the need for specific environmental data and rising expectations from authorities. There are chances for innovation since, thankfully, authorities and investors are eager to step up monitoring efforts to comprehend the environmental impact of offshore wind.

Although it is less controlled, the effect of carbon emissions during the construction of offshore wind farms is frequently brought up in opposition. Although the supply chain is beginning to recognise the value of decarbonization, we’re happy to be setting the pace. We intend to decarbonize our fleet and promote comparable changes in the boats we charter in order to achieve our goal of being net zero by 2035.

By 2050, the offshore wind industry wants to reach net zero. The protection of our seas, which in turn protects our planet, will require utility-scale renewable energy production and big data-driven advancements in comprehension, monitoring, and collaboration.

Source: Fugro

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