Tech Insights

UK Must Overcome Shortfall to Meet Offshore Wind Goals

June 21, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

An ABB analysis places a number on the shortfall of offshore wind projects needed to meet the U.K.’s 2030 target: Reaching 50 GW in seven years will require a 265% increase in capacity from 24 wind farms. 

An analysis by ABB Energy Industries, a division of Switzerland-based tech giant ABB, estimates that the United Kingdom needs 24 wind farms averaging 1.5 gigawatts (GW) each to meet its 2030 goal of reaching 50 GW of offshore wind capacity. 

 

Hornsea 2 Wind Farm

Featuring 165 wind turbines and 1.3 GW of capacity, the Hornsea 2 Wind Farm in the North Sea supplies enough offshore wind energy for over 1.4 million U.K. homes. Image used courtesy of Ørsted

 

With only 13.7 GW in operation today, ABB says Britain needs a 265% increase in capacity to stay on track with its 2030 target. This would propel its offshore wind electricity supply from 18% to 62%, covering every U.K. household (around 29.98 million homes), up from 15.28 million homes today. The expansion would also free up an export surplus to power another 37 million homes in nearby countries. 

The U.K. is already a hotspot for offshore wind development, with several projects in the pipeline bringing world-leading levels of capacity once operational in the coming years. The Dogger Bank Wind Farm is among the largest—a three-phase project about 80.7 to 118 miles from Britain’s northeast coast. With 3.6 GW of total capacity and 277 General Electric Haliade-X turbines, the site will supply enough power for 6 million homes annually. Offshore construction started in 2022, and the first phase is slated to become operational later this year. 

ABB is a partner in seven offshore projects totaling 9 GW of capacity across the U.K. today, including Dogger Bank. Per-Erik Holsten, who leads ABB Energy Industries in Northern Europe, noted in a statement that reaching the U.K.’s ambitious targets would entail bringing down the cost of new wind farm development, accelerating planning and permitting processes, expanding the supply chain, and delivering network infrastructure upgrades to accommodate increased power flow and grid connections. 

 

ABB’s estimates for U.K. offshore wind expansion

ABB’s estimates for U.K. offshore wind expansion. Image used courtesy of ABB
 

Snapshot of the UK’s Ongoing Wind Expansion

Wind power accounted for 32.4% of the U.K.’s total electricity generation in the first quarter of 2023, per recent data from Drax Electric Insights. This marks a significant milestone, with wind surpassing gas for the first time. ABB’s report notes that electricity produced from wind is over 50% cheaper than gas. 

 

U.K.’s added capacity growth since 2018 for the leading renewable energy technologies

The U.K.’s added capacity growth since 2018 for the leading renewable energy technologies. Image used courtesy of the U.K. Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (page 17)
 

This came on the heels of historic growth in wind-supplied power last year. According to the U.K. Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, wind generation hit a record share of 24.6% amid higher-than-average wind speeds to reach 80.2 terawatt-hours in 2022, up from 3.3% in 2010. 

Record renewable generation in 2022 was also driven by 3.8 GW of fresh capacity installed on the grid, with 2.7 GW of offshore wind, 0.3 GW of onshore wind, and 0.7 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) power. This new capacity included the 1-GW Moray East and 0.3-GW Seagreen offshore wind farms in Scotland and the 1.3-GW Hornsea 2 project in England. 

Hornsea 2, headed by Danish energy firm Ørsted, entered operation in August 2022 at the lowest-ever contract price for offshore wind in Britain, according to Ørsted’s website, surpassing the first phase of the project (1.2-GW Hornsea 1, operational in 2020) as the world’s largest offshore wind farm with enough power for more than 1.4 million homes. The two sites now power over 2.5 million U.K. homes. A third phase is currently underway, estimated to add enough capacity for 2 million more homes once operational. 

 

New Policies to Spur Floating Offshore Wind Development

A recent market research report from RenewableUK estimated that Britain’s pipeline of offshore wind projects tops 97.9 GW, up from 91.2 GW last year. 

Though the U.K. is already a world leader in wind power deployment, floating offshore wind projects bring additional promise to boost its global stature in the market even higher. 

Deployed in deeper waters than standard wind turbines, floating facilities will support increased capacity because they allow wind farms to be placed in new areas along the coastline with the highest wind strength. The U.K. government is looking to spur new floating offshore wind manufacturing investments through its Powering Up Britain plan, announced in late March. Intending to expand infrastructure to reduce development costs, the policy sets aside around $201.7 million to fund port infrastructure projects.

These developments support the U.K. government’s broader energy transition strategy. The country aims to decarbonize its power grid by 2035, double its electricity generation capacity by the late-2030s, and reach net-zero emissions status in 2050. In addition to reaching up to 50 GW of offshore wind by the decade’s end, Britain plans to quintuple its solar power over the next 12 years.