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Infrastructure in 2014: Forces of change

The UK could lead the world in developing offshore renewable energy with the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs and contribute billions of pounds to the economy in taxes and exports.

We are a wind-battered island, so clearly offshore renewable energy is one of the key tools for the UK to meet its carbon reduction targets. But renewable energy is still relatively new, with some challenges around costs, and that applies particularly to offshore. The government is clear: today’s cost of offshore power needs to be reduced substantially, by approximately 30% to 40% by 2020 in the case of offshore wind.

However, solving this is achievable by allowing innovation to thrive, focusing on common standards, and development of scale of manufacturing and delivery. We need a more joined-up approach in the industry, with the supply chain, developers, financiers and politicians all working more closely together to identify where costs can be reduced.

That’s where the Technology Strategy Board’s Catapult programme comes in. I head up the Glasgow-based Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, one of seven technology and innovation centres that will transform the UK’s innovation capability for the long term and represents over £1bn of private and public sector investment over the next few years.

The Catapult programme comes from the UK government approaching innovation in a way that hasn’t been done for many years. It recognises that we have a world-class domestic industrial base, small and medium sized businesses and academia. But historically we have not been good at joining up the parts to realise their full potential.

The ORE Catapult works closely with academia and companies - from manufacturers and owners of power plants to small businesses - to de-risk innovation and have it adopted more quickly. We are creating a centre of excellence with deep technological and engineering expertise, and are recruiting over 100 experienced engineers and technologists over the next couple of years; people with knowledge of what it takes to get a project or a technology to market.

The ORE Catapult will help the UK to seize the opportunity to lead the world in offshore wind, wave and tidal electricity production. In the process we will generate substantial economic growth, jobs and exports, and help the country increase low-carbon, affordable generation.

Future ORE Catapult programmes will include a focus on turbine foundations and their design and application for the offshore wind sector.

We will look at developing best practice solutions for jackets, monopiles and gravity-based systems, and at establishing a best fit for the UK environment in terms of design, optimisation, cost of manufacture and deployment.

We are currently supporting Scottish Enterprise with their Scottish Innovative Foundation Technologies (SIFT) fund to look at innovation in the field of foundations, and are also interested in exploring ways to support innovation surrounding cable movement and how subsea cables can be stabilised offshore, which is particularly relevant to high tidal projects.

The ORE Catapult will help the UK to seize the opportunity to lead the world in offshore wind, wave and tidal electricity production

Standardisation across the industry is another key objective for us. Many other industries successfully use standards as they mature, to drive progress and open the supply chain to new entrants. Standards can play a vital role in fuelling innovation, promoting competition, lowering technology costs and accelerating market growth, particularly when they are the result of an industry-led, consensus-based open and transparent process, and voluntarily adopted in the market.

The ORE Catapult is a critical element of a shared vision in which government, industry and the supply chain all have vital roles to play. There is a need to learn commercial lessons from other sectors, such as the offshore oil and gas, aerospace and automotive industries, and deliver consistent, joined up thinking to provide investor confidence and maximise installed offshore renewable energy capacity and the resulting economic, social and environmental benefits.

We will not be issuing capital grants, but will provide leadership, access and connectivity, engineering and technical expertise, to assist the growth and development of technical solutions.

I’m clear we have a huge role to play in enabling the entire UK offshore renewables sector - wind, wave and tidal - to realise its full economic potential.

  • Andrew Jamieson, chief executive, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult

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