The top 5 issues facing the offshore energy sector

Ahead of the annual Offshore Wind Connections conference taking place from 3 to 4 May in Bridlington Spa, RSM’s Phil Withers looks ahead to some of the key issues facing the offshore wind sector.

Brexit

As with all business sectors in the UK, the uncertainties surrounding Brexit are causing concern for the offshore energy providers. On the positive side, the Prime Minister has announced that post-Brexit, Britain will be at the forefront of science, innovation and clean energy with the aim of making the UK a global leader in offshore wind. However, currency volatility and potential restrictions on the freedom of movement for EU workers could make this harder to achieve. There are also concerns that the current buoyancy in international investment could be jeopardised by a so called ‘hard Brexit’ if and when the UK leaves the Customs Union and the Single Market.

Skilled workforce

As the North Sea wind farms develop and become fully operational, there will be an increasing demand for skilled workers. In particular, if Brexit leads to a restriction on foreign workers, the necessity for home grown talent will increase. While there are many University Technical Colleges being established, there is undoubtedly going to be a supply and demand issue of suitable trainees. This is likely to create a very competitive market for students between educational institutions and between employers, in attracting the best candidates.

Subsidies

The UK government has agreed to set the price of electricity at the proposed Hinckley C nuclear power station at £92.5 per megawatt hour. At the same time it is under pressure from consumers to reduce the cost of electricity generated from offshore wind facilities. The industry is responding by producing bigger turbines and honing their logistic and supply chain options in response. However, the UK Government may want to have their cake and eat it by restricting or dispensing with subsidies at the same time as demanding cheaper power.

US wind farms

Wind farm development is virtually Trump-proof as each US State is in charge of their renewable energy development, and are increasingly eager to develop their own market place. In the last year there have been three visits by US officials and business leaders to the Humber. The visitors have been keen to understand and repeat the successes of what the Humber has achieved and use the template for cooperation between local authorities, port operators, educational institutions and the supply chain. The Humber therefore has a lot to shout about when it comes to creating a sustainable ecosystem that incubates research and development, manufacturing and maintenance programmes to create a conveyor system for several generations of high paid skilled jobs. 

Energy storage

The big issue is storage of energy and voltage optimisation equipment. Quite obviously when the wind blows the energy is abundant, but when it doesn’t it’s not. Organisations around the world like Tesla in the US are busily developing battery systems that can take on and store electricity for later distribution into the grid or for own use when installed in a specific building or district. Voltage optimisation is rapidly becoming the name of the game for industry. By maintaining an appropriate level of voltage within a manufacturing process for example, if a lower voltage occurs on the grid, machinery simply stops but the optimisation replaces the energy gap from the in house battery storage system. Correspondingly voltage optimisation can also manage power surges which causes damage to motors and drives by overheating and shortening life expectancy of very expensive automated equipment.