Offshore wind energy: a collaborative future

UK and Germany now share a common goal: to rapidly accelerate the development and deployment of offshore wind energy to help their respective countries deliver energy security and meet agreed carbon reduction plans.

The recent Renewables Road Map put the UK goal at up to 18GW by 2020, while Chancellor Angela Merkel has committed Germany to building 25GW of offshore wind capacity over the next 20 years, as part of the country's nuclear energy exit strategy.

Between the two countries, there are now objectives and plans to deploy over 40GW of new capacity, equivalent to some 8,000 turbines, over the next twenty years. This will not be an easy challenge and Germany and the UK would do well to recognise they have a lot to learn from each other. A new partnership to collaborate and co-operate must be forged to ensure that our respective resources are developed as quickly and as cost efficiently as possible.

After all it will be German and UK consumers that ultimately foot the bill. We owe it to them to keep the cost down.

Analyses carried out by the Carbon Trust over the past five years, show innovation can dramatically reduce costs. Opportunities lie across the offshore wind energy supply chain, through to the deployment and operation of the thousands of offshore turbines that will be built as far as 290 kilometres from the coast. Our Offshore Wind Accelerator R&D programme aims to reduce costs by at least 10 per cent.

Wind turbines: new foundations needed

One area where innovation is critical is in turbine foundation design. Of the wind farms built off the UK coast in the next ten years, 70 per cent will be in water over 30 metres deep, and some will need to cope with depths in excess of 60 metres. German developers face similar challenges. The traditional monopole design becomes very costly in deep waters. Equally, different subsea soil conditions mean there is no 'one size fits all' answer: a range of new technologies is needed.

In addition, optimising the layout of wind farms is becoming increasingly important as farms get larger, and increased turbulence is created by the turbine blades. The biggest wind farms today have about 300 turbines, but Dogger Bank, a site that is due to be developed in the middle of the North Sea, could have as many as 2,500. It is critical that the wind farm layout is optimised to maximise electricity generation.

Next generation wind farms

The next generation of wind farms, built further offshore where conditions are harsher, will also pose problems in transferring engineers and equipment safely from boats to wind turbines. This becomes very challenging 300 kilometres from the coastline, in turbulent sea conditions. New technology must be developed and adapted, but dealing with this problem could boost the economics of offshore wind by as much as £3 billion in the UK alone.

Through work already undertaken with eight wind farm developers, including the German companies E.ON and RWE Innogy, the Carbon Trust is helping to find answers to these problems. But this kind of industry collaboration could go further and faster by combining UK and German knowledge and resources.

The UK is already the largest generator of offshore wind electricity in the world, and the focus is now on developing the next phase, the vast 'Round Three' wind farm sites, at lowest cost. Combining this knowledge with Germany's renowned engineering abilities through a new industrial partnership would ensure lessons learned on both sides of the North Sea are put to best use.

By working together and innovating together, we can ensure offshore wind becomes a genuine asset, delivering enormous economic and environmental benefits for both countries.

Read more about the Carbon Trust and Offshore Wind