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The Celtic Sea – The New Floating Frontier in Offshore Wind Development

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By Jess Hooper,

MEW Programme Manager,

Marine Energy Wales

 

Off the coastlines of Wales, Cornwall and Southern Ireland lies the Celtic Sea. Water depths here range from 90 to 250 metres and the wind speed averages 9 metres per second (20mph or 17knots). Whilst this may sound daunting to some, for the wind industry and the neighbouring regions the Celtic Sea represents an exciting opportunity.

With its wind power potential, the Celtic Sea should always have been a first choice for wind turbines, but its deeper water proved inaccessible. Industrial advances are changing the status quo. Floating offshore wind technology replaces the traditional wind turbine (fixed) foundations with tethering technology (floating) developed by the oil and gas sector making deeper sea locations more accessible.

This advancement comes at an important time. The UK Government has set a target to deliver 40GW of Offshore Wind (fixed and floating) by 2030 in an effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050. The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) takes this further, identifying a need for over 100GW by 2050. The CCC’s message to Government is clear “the 2020s must be the decisive decade of progress and action on climate change. By the early 2030s, every new car and van, and every replacement boiler must be zero-carbon; by 2035, all UK electricity production must be zero carbon.”

While technologies such as hydrogen will play an important role in meeting these targets, demand for electricity is set to soar with estimates suggesting it could treble by 2050. The potential for floating offshore wind in delivering this need, as well as potentially supporting the growth of hydrogen, is significant.

The floating offshore wind industry gained further ground at the end of 2021 when UK Government outlined subsidy support for floating wind, and The Crown Estate (owner of the seabed) announced a leasing round of 4GW in the Celtic Sea with ambitions to achieve build out by 2035.

Initial assessments of the Celtic Sea’s potential suggest there could be between 50 and 120 Gigawatts of capacity in the region, occupying an area of up to 25,000km² area. To put that in perspective, 1 Gigawatt alone can supply over 900,000 homes with clean electricity.

The local impact is important. The floating offshore wind industry has contributed nearly £2.2 million to the Welsh economy in recent years. Further significant growth is anticipated over the next decade as sites progress through consenting and as supply chains ramp up to deliver this burgeoning industry, culminating in a forecast £682 million in supply chain opportunities for Wales and Cornwall by 2030.

Pembrokeshire, on the west coast, is particularly well positioned to benefit. Its proximity to the Celtic Sea is enviable and combines with the region’s highly respected energy and engineering supply chain. Floating wind sites such as the 96 MW floating wind project, Erebus, are already in development here.

The region’s proposition is expanding fast and will help the sector realise the ambitious energy targets. Testing, design and research is supported by initiatives such as META, a marine technology and components testing centre, the Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone for array testing, and the arrival of an Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult. There are also moves by the SWIC partnership (South Wales Industrial Cluster) to decarbonise heavy industry in south Wales using hydrogen produced from renewable energy.

This opportunity for electricity generation just off Wales’ coast is extraordinary. It is set to create new cross-industry opportunities and dramatically boost economic growth, sustainable development, employment prospects and clean, green energy over the next decade, positioning Wales at the forefront of the energy industry.