Reinforcing offshore innovation
December 6, 2023

Chris Smith & Liz Wells

The UK’s leading position in offshore wind could be under threat unless it reinforces the market with new approaches to accelerate development. As we move towards a greener future, it’s essential that we continue to invest in innovation and explore new ways to harness the power of offshore wind.

Given the UK’s acknowledged leadership in offshore wind, the outcome of the latest round of auctions was, at best, disappointing. Second, only to China, the UK has deployed around 15 GW of offshore wind capacity since the Blyth project marked the start of the country’s offshore wind journey in late 2000. Now though, economic conditions have deteriorated as a result of higher interest rates and measures originally designed to encourage renewables development have not succeeded in attracting developers of offshore wind. The latest round of auctions, held in September, failed to attract a single bid to the considerable ire of the offshore wind industry.

Nonetheless, it seems the government has taken heed of a slew of recent announcements indicating that a concerted effort to rectify the situation is underway. Among those measures, the recent Autumn statement from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt includes some £4.5 billion of investment over five years designed to boost strategic manufacturing in clean energy, among other sectors. Of the sequential steps required to facilitate the offshore wind sector, the recent reforms to the electricity transmission network, including cutting connection waiting times, also recognise the role the value chain has to play.

The measures mean that overall connection delays are expected to be cut from about five years currently to no more than six months. According to analysis from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), these reforms could increase investment by an average of £10 billion per year over the next decade.

Furthermore, in response to a review by Electricity Network Commissioner Nick Winser, the government is also setting out an Action Plan, as set out in the Transmission Acceleration Plan, to halve the time to build new grid infrastructure to seven years. The action plan includes proposals for the Electricity System Operator to work with the government to produce a new Strategic Spatial Energy Plan.

Trade group RenewableUK welcomed the measures, with Chief Executive Dan McGrail saying the moves would “help us to build up new supply chains in Britain at a time when international competition for investment in clean technology manufacturing has never been more intense”.

However, if the UK is to maintain its leadership in the offshore wind sector, there are examples and lessons that could be considered from European and Scandinavian neighbours. For instance, in a bid to deliver offshore wind ambitions in the face of stiff competition, nine European countries have collectively launched a joint offshore wind tender designed to increase predictability in the wind power sector and allow for better collaboration. At a recent ministerial meeting of the North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC), Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, together with the European Commission (EC), launched a joint plan for offshore wind tenders that will see the group auctioning around 15 GW every year with plans to reach almost 100 GW by 2030. A shared plan for infrastructure in the North Sea is also due to be published by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) early in the new year as a key step in a European integrated energy system for 2050.

This more integrated approach to planning is also already underway in the UK, with UK energy regulator Ofgem recently announcing plans for Regional Energy Strategic Planners (RESPs) to accelerate and speed up the transition to net zero. RESPs will work with local government, gas and electricity networks, to improve infrastructure needed in different parts of the country and attract investment. The new Future Systems Operator (FSO) will be responsible for implementing up to 13 RESPs across the UK.

Nonetheless, some of the more ambitious European nations have adopted still grander plans to build an offshore transmission network of the kind that will be necessary for the UK to fully develop its prodigious offshore wind energy resources. Denmark, for example, is building two ‘energy islands’ in the North Sea and the Baltic that will see future interconnectors between European countries connect to a wider European transmission network1. In addition Belgium has an ongoing development of an Energy Island2. Princess Elisabeth Island and Bornholm will both feature multi-GW capacities and will support large-scale plans for offshore wind in the region.

The UK built its commanding lead in offshore wind on the back of a bold vision and a strong thread of innovation. In striving to achieve better and more innovative solutions, taking inspiration from our neighbours in the Southern North Sea, with perspiration and a dash of inspiration, there is every opportunity for the island nation to be at the heart of Europe’s green energy transition.



Contributing co-author Liz Wells is is a planning specialist for energy and infrastructure projects at Deloitte.

A chartered Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, she has more than 15 years of experience in delivering energy and infrastructure projects within different environments and consenting regimes including the Town and County Planning Act 1990, Planning Act 2008, GPDO, Electricity Act 1989 and European TEN-E Regulation.

Liz has extensive National Significant Infrastructure Project and large scale linear TCPA experience managing multi disciplined teams including environmental, engineering, communications and land agents and references.

Example projects include major international interconnectors between electricity transmission systems, blue and green hydrogen generation and transmission, captured carbon and offshore transmission networks.

Liz is an accomplished conference speaker and panel chair, regularly contributing to discussions on the energy transition on topics such as carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and interconnection amongst others.

Liz Wells