From an early age learning about the deforestation of rainforests at school all the way through to university where I learnt the intricacies of our changing climate, the environment has been my guiding north star. The climate emergency is the reason why I work in an industry where I feel I am making a difference. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else and being happy. Now there is no holy grail answer to climate change, but offshore wind is one of the best chances we have to meet the UK government’s target of net zero by 2050.
It’s a critical piece of the puzzle.
I joined WSP as a Technical Director in our Earth and Environment business in April 2021 supporting our push to help clients plan transformative infrastructure. Since then, I’ve been working with colleagues across WSP to lead the development of a new strategy aimed at meeting our offshore wind clients’ needs and increasing the transformative impact of our work for them.
The UK’s offshore opportunity
The UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy aims to provide 40 Gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, up from around 10.5GW in 2020. As demand for electricity continues to grow globally, particularly with the electrification of transport and the heating of our homes and buildings, significant expansion of renewable generation is needed in order to meet our decarbonisation targets. As an island nation with plenty of wind and lots of suitable seabed areas, the UK is the world's most advanced offshore wind market.
Three critical factors in determining whether an area is suitable for an offshore wind farm are wind speed, water depth and ground conditions. The industry is currently moving towards floating foundations that use anchors and mooring lines rather than a traditional monopile design where a tube is drilled into the seabed as deep as the tower is tall. The traditional approach was limited to areas of around 60m water depth, floating technology takes this to hundreds of metres. It will triple the area of a seabed that can be used for offshore wind, and open up deep water offshore wind markets in Europe, Asia and the western United States.
As with any form of large-scale infrastructure, there is an impact on the environment that needs to be carefully assessed and mitigated where necessary. Particular areas of focus for offshore wind are collision and disturbance of birds, and noise impacts on marine fauna particularly during piling operations. The Environmental Impact Assessment process is designed to ensure that all impacts, negative and positive, are identified and assessed as a realistic worst case scenario and the right solutions to significant impacts are found. Floating wind technology offers an opportunity to reduce some of these risks.
Just like turbine foundations have evolved over time, the efficiency of the turbines themselves has improved too, and the overall cost of offshore wind is now competitive with fossil fuels. This is one of many reasons traditional oil and gas developers are switching their attention through investment in offshore wind as part of a greener future.
A green revolution in the UK’s energy economies
With this pressure to become greener and more sustainable comes an opportunity. The communities where I live and grew up first led the industrial revolution over a hundred years across the North East and North West of England and Scotland. They can lead again with the green industrial revolution, creating jobs, developing skills, and improving prosperity in these areas. We now have the largest offshore wind farm Dogger Bank being built off of the North East coast and UK offshore wind job numbers could swell from 26,000 to 70,000.
Young people in the North East will grow up with that opportunity on their doorstep, they can build their lives and careers around it, and crucially the area can retain talent rather than lose it to other cities. With the impact of deindustrialization in the 1980s and 1990s persisting to this day, driving our economy forward provides me with added incentive to trailblaze and inspire our future changemakers.
Climate change is our main existential threat. If we continue to support the industry, offshore wind will play a big part in helping the UK reach net zero. It will also grow into an enormous global market, a flagship industry for transformative infrastructure driving clean growth in the UK and beyond.