Regulatory policy

Scottish auction shows Irish policy on floating offshore wind is outdated

In a bold and ambitious auction of the seabed, the Scottish government has made Scotland the world’s premier location for floating offshore wind. Without exception.

This has been achieved despite the low capacity of the Scottish grid, which limits the possibilities of local absorption of the huge volumes of electricity to be generated by these offshore giants.

Rather than wait to upgrade grid infrastructure, the Scots believed that excess energy would find a home, through the use of offshore wind electricity to facilitate the production of green hydrogen and ammonia.

These are undoubtedly the fuels of the future. Scotland has seized the momentum created by the hydrogen market demand in continental Europe, particularly in Germany, to launch the development of a new energy export economy.

The results of the recent seabed auction, known as ScotWind, will see an upfront payment of £700m (€840m) to the Scottish government, from consortia of oil and gas supermajors , utilities and investment companies. Seventeen projects were selected from more than 70 bids, and the winners were offered option agreements, which reserve the rights to a total of 7,000 km2 of seabed.

The projects have a combined generating capacity of 25 GW, enough wind farms to power the equivalent of 23 million UK homes a year. This is well above the expected auction result of 10 GW which should help decarbonise the Scottish economy.

However, this is not the only highlight. Sixty percent of the projects will use floating offshore wind technology. These wind turbines will rest on floating foundations anchored to the seabed in water depths of over 80 meters, opening up offshore areas with high wind capacity to new developments. In short, floating wind is revolutionizing the offshore wind industry in Scotland.

The lesson from Scotland is that courageous leadership and policy-making can drive the transformation needed to stop climate change

Across the Irish Sea, proponents of floating offshore wind development in Ireland, such as joint venture partners Simply Blue Group and Shell New Energies, recognize the huge potential of Ireland’s sea area. Ireland, which is seven times its landmass, combined with one of the best offshore wind resources in the world.

The developers promote the opportunity for floating offshore wind to have positive effects on climate change, coastal economies, job creation and biodiversity in Ireland.

Play catch-up

Meanwhile, the Irish government has been busy catching up. After decades of neglect of the marine planning system, the new Marine Area Plan Act was signed into law in December. This is an important step for the regulation of all offshore activities. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to policy changes that have yet to be made. These include the creation of the Maritime Zone Regulatory Agency, the introduction of legislation for the designation of marine protected areas, the design of a process for issuing land leases similar to ScotWind and the establishment of the first support programs for offshore renewable energies.

Investment in demonstration projects, such as Hywind, the world’s first floating offshore wind farm off Aberdeenshire, put Scotland on the map when it began operations in 2017. Five years later , Scotland is preparing to deploy 15 GW of floating wind technology.

By comparison, Ireland has a Climate Action Plan milestone target of 5 GW of offshore wind by 2030. The consensus is that this is a challenge and may not be hit. Taking a leaf from Scotland’s book, what would a higher goal look like? This would potentially be a game-changer and would require a shift in thinking about the importance of network capacity.

The current approach linking offshore wind to the existing grid and proximity to demand centers emphasizes Dublin and the east coast.

Meanwhile, developers of floating offshore wind projects in the west of Ireland are waiting for plans to be put in place by Eirgrid to allow connection to the existing grid at Moneypoint. A more ambitious target would also force Irish policymakers to prioritize the development of policy support for green hydrogen production and to start thinking in terms of anticipation to 2030 and beyond.

“It makes sense to initiate projects as early as possible. However, the official line is that Ireland will seek to develop floating wind after 2030 when the technology is mature.

It is impossible to say whether any of the 5 GW targets will come from floating offshore wind, despite the fact that floating offshore wind can supply at least 30 GW of power from the west coast alone.

Additionally, floating wind offers the greatest opportunity for economic development this country has seen since Ardnacrusha was able to power a fledgling state.

It makes sense to initiate projects and launch the supply chain as soon as possible. However, the official line is that Ireland will seek to develop floating wind after 2030 when the technology is mature. Following the results of ScotWind, the evidence that industry and technology are ready to realize floating wind projects means that it is simply impossible to maintain this position.

The lesson from Scotland is that courageous leadership and policy-making can deliver the transformation needed to stop climate change, while paving the way for a maritime economy where generations of coastal communities can reap the benefits.

In Ireland, we need to step up the momentum to pull that same future towards us. It involves fundamentally questioning the prevailing logic and engaging with business development to provide a blueprint. We now have a model to follow. If we have the will, Scotland has shown us the way.

Val Cummins is Director of Operations and Projects for Simply Blue Group in Ireland