The demand for offshore wind development across the world is ever apparent and especially in Scottish ports, where there is mounting concerns and bottlenecks that need to be addressed. Wind developers (both fixed bottom and floating) are currently in discussions with the majority of Scottish Ports, with a particular focus on the East Coast.
With space (both onshore and at berth) at a premium, expansion options are often limited and consistently at high cost. There are complex consenting challenges, protected sites, presumption against land claim from consultees and the timescales and finances involved do not meet current commercial aspirations.
They are for the most part, unviable. Ports are struggling with their limited expansion options and developers are looking to hedge their bets on which options can be made commercially viable and will gain consent.
Developer commitment: Developers are unwilling to sign up to option agreements with ports while project economics are uncertain. In addition, challenges around gaining consent and a CfD are causing delayed commitment as wind developers wait until the last minute to agree leasing contracts and minimise their risk.
Lack of space: There is insufficient space in Scottish Ports to deliver even a proportion of the projects forecast for deployment at the expected rates, even if further staggered. Renewable UK state in relation to Floating Offshore Wind alone:
To enable the UK to scale up, the report recommends developing ports as soon as possible by investing £4 billion to ensure they are ready for mass floating wind deployment by the end of this decade.
In the report commissioned by RenewableUK, Scottish Renewables, The Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland it is strongly recommended that 11 ports around the UK are ‘transformed as fast as possible’ to enable the installation of 34GW of floating offshore wind alone by 2040.
Lack of time and infrastructure: To have new infrastructure (whether berths, hard standing, marshalling or deepened channels) ready in time for some of these projects, the consenting process would need to have already started, if not the construction.
Lack of financing and high cost of infrastructure: Some ports may be unable to borrow the vast sums required for this new infrastructure, without a contract from the developer to guarantee against the borrowing.
Lack of reusability and residual value: Then there is the challenge of what to use the infrastructure for once the offshore wind projects have concluded. This infrastructure is expensive to maintain and there is a risk that (much like post oil boom) large areas will be left unused and not generate further revenue.
The costs are such that the infrastructure will not pay for itself in the timescale of the projects. There is therefore a risk of Harbour Authorities struggling to make payment or potentially defaulting on loans for infrastructure that no longer has a purpose.
Lack of scalability / future proofing: Finally, there is a lack of time sensitive scalability, there are no options to grow the infrastructure (without another long consenting and construction phase), or indeed scale it back or remove it, with minimal environmental impact, as the opportunity changes and usage evolves.
Further challenges with floating offshore wind:
There have been many previous studies, including the most recent one on FLOW published by RenewableUK (ibid)., that clearly shows UK ports are currently not capable of supporting the construction and deployment of floating offshore wind due to the required space and water depth. Floating offshore wind requires a minimum of 15-16.5m depth (depending on turbine size) in ports.
The Solution: - Floating Infrastructure
Given the numerous challenges outlined in this paper (namely depth requirements, timescales for consenting and deployment, commercial viability, infrastructure readiness, scalability, project duration, infrastructure legacy and environmental impact) floating infrastructure offers real potential for accelerating development and ending the stalemate.
ELIRE infra have created Smart Hubs.
These are modular and scalable floating assets that can be used for multiple purposes.
They are hexagonal in form, made up of a central ‘core’ and six outer platforms.
The hexagonal form brings increased strength and connections, allowing scalability, many hexagons can be added together, or indeed taken apart.
As they float, they can be moored in deeper water (ideally sheltered) and therefore can become a working platform and marshalling area in deep water, avoiding the need for land claim and channel deepening - constraints that often extend consenting time and have undesirable cost and primary environmental impacts.
They can also be scaled, to increase or reduce the footprint as dictated by the needs of the location, sometimes within the scope of the same project rather than between projects. This means that the port is not left with an unused asset that is no longer generating revenue while continuing to carry maintenance liabilities.
Overcoming commercial barriers to development:
The most flexible approach to deployment of the Smart Hubs is where the hubs are leased from ELIRE Infra (a UK registered company) through the Hubs as a Service (HaaS) offering (see below), rather than owned, allowing the operator (whether a Port, EPC Contractor or a Developer) to lease them and return them when no longer required, either as a whole or in part, should the scale change. At the end of the leasing period the Smart Hubs can be removed with minimal environmental impact and repositioned for other opportunities.
The HaaS option alleviates both the upfront investment barrier and the challenge of unused infrastructure taking up valuable space in Ports and costing money after its projects are concluded.
Reduced environmental impact: The environmental impacts associated with the Smart Hubs are significantly reduced in comparison to current methods. Sea bed damage is limited to mooring systems and, in some cases, utilities connections. There is no land claim needed to deploy these solutions, vastly reducing or even eliminating environmental disturbances to the coastline. Neither is there a requirement to import thousands of tonnes of rock.
Energy agnostic and multipurpose infrastructure: Utilities can be either grid supplied (with smart infrastructure installed to enable working with tides and currents) or generated on board. There is scope for solar deployment, wind deployment, hydrogen, tidal or SMR (Small Modular Reactor) if large quantities of energy are required. Smart Hubs can also be used to bunker fuel for those vessels delivering or installing the components.