Once explored as a wave energy hot spot, the offshore basin between England, Ireland and Wales is now raising hopes as a key floating wind play – and could strike a light for the UK’s bedimmed clean energy goals, writes Darius Snieckus
Renewable offshore energy arrived in the Celtic Sea early, in 2009, via the revolutionary but ultimately star-crossed WaveHub project, a giant ‘socket in the sea’ that was developed as part of an ultimately scuppered wave power test facility off Cornwall, in the southwest UK.
Now the play has every appearance of coming back with a bang – powered by floating wind, with seabed landlord the Crown Estate expanding a hotly anticipated flagship leasing round that will now have 4.5GW of capacity up for bid, enough to one day supply four million homes.
The move builds on growing industrial momentum in Celtic Sea, where a rich wind resource fueled by 9-10 meter per second gusts and ready-to-redevelop maritime supply chain has attracted the attention of a who’s-who of industry heavyweights, including RWE, Orsted, Corio, Mainstream and Equinor.
Meanwhile, excitement has been stoked by three 100MW projects, Flotation-Cobra’s White Cross and Floventis’ Llyr 1 and 2, that are progressing through a test & demonstration programme and could be the first floating wind power in the Welsh Celtic.
'The coming Celtic Sea auction will be the first test of developers’ appetite for UK projects after the sector was rocked by a developer boycott on pricing terms in this autumn's AR5 allocation round.'
Chief Executive Editor
And last year the 40MW TwinHub, being developed by Hexicon with an innovative two-turbine design – plugged into the old WaveHub unit, won the first government Contract for Difference (CfD) ever for a floating project.
The coming Celtic Sea auction will be the first test of developers’ appetite for UK projects after the sector was rocked by a developer boycott on pricing terms of the AR5 round – a no-show that left the pioneering TotalEnergies-led 96MW Erebus floating wind project off Wales reconsidering its “delivery strategy”.
But as such, the Round 5, where three gigascale project development areas are up for grabs, will also serve as a reality-check on international wind developers’ will to continue investing in UK offshore projects. Already it feels a long time since the giddy optimism of last year’s Scotwind leasing, which attracted more than 30 developers and bagged over £700m ($855m) in option fees.
Gigawatts of floating wind 'potential'
The Celtic Sea leasing has the potential to add gigawatts to a pipeline of projects already totaling more than 35GW in the UK, of which the most mature will compete for subsidies in the coming CfD auction. This pipeline is well beyond the Conservative UK government’s target of 5GW of floating wind by 2030, but the projects still need to find their way into to the water.
For the Celtic Sea’s littoral countries, creation of a regional sector means economic development as well as resource development. The Celtic Sea could be harnessed to bring 24GW of floating wind online by 2045, and a Welsh government study calculated almost £45bn in inward investment and 30,000 jobs could be generation in a “manufacturing engine room” of coast facilities around the region by mid-century.
With so much at stake, the Crown Estate is giving developers the option to expand projects in phases while technology and supply chains mature and working closely with National Grid transmission system operator to align the first leasing process to a coordinated power network connection queue.
First aerial and metocean surveys for the Celtic Sea auction got going this summer, with data to be made available to the winning developers to speed engineering design decisions and reduce project risk profiles.
These are existentially important first steps, but the fleet of gigascale floating wind projects on the horizon still need viable routes to market, and the results of the CfD round this autumn has left a large question mark hanging over whether the UK's current auction model is fit-for-purpose.
This article was first published in Aegir Insights' offshore energy intelligence newsletter, Beaufort.
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