Wind power is one of humans’ earliest sources of energy. As nations and industries across the world step up the fight against climate change, it’s also one of the most vital for our future.
One of the major barriers to the widespread adoption of clean energy sources like wind is the perceived uncertainty. Governments want to invest in trusted, proven technology, and wind – at least in North America – is in its infancy (compared with traditional energy sources like oil and gas).
But the tide is turning; sea levels are rising, and across the Atlantic there is mounting evidence of the transformative potential of wind energy – both on the environment, and on the modernization and future proofing of the sector.
In the United Kingdom, offshore wind has been a major success. Over the last five years, the UK has become the world’s largest market for offshore wind investment and deployment. The number of wind farms increases every year, and the rate of progress in the technology’s efficiency and scale of use continues to rise.
Technological improvements mean that the latest generation of sleek and powerful turbines offers far more than the first iterations, which gained a reputation for being nothing more than a costly nod to the environmental lobby. Recent advances have led to the doubling of turbine power output over the last five years - this output is anticipated to double again in the next five years, faster than nearly any other tech sector.
The key to their uptake and success in the UK is the parallel development of new infrastructure, in order to support and encourage the continued spread of these projects.
With several proposed offshore wind developments in the pipeline, North America is beginning a similar journey to that of the UK, which provides a compelling case study of how this support framework is integral to the industry’s success.
Those looking for lessons on how to replicate the UK’s successful model need look no further than Liverpool, a city in the north west of the UK which is known around the world as the home of The Beatles and Liverpool FC. It boasts a long maritime heritage, and an ultra-modern, deepwater port infrastructure. It also happens to be home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of offshore wind turbines, and offshore wind business clusters.
From its high-capacity port that provides the necessary space for construction vessels and transfer of project cargo, to the Cammell Laird shipyard (which has diversified to support large-scale energy projects, specializing in modular construction, repair, and assembly) Liverpool has built an ecosystem for wind energy to grow.
The expansive Cammell Laird site on the city’s waterfront is the hub. The wider wind energy infrastructure in Liverpool City Region includes The University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, and the National Oceanography Centre, where some of the UK’s leading academic experts in wind energy are based. It also includes the Engineering College, which is dedicated to developing programs that support the offshore wind industry.
The region boasts a strong supply chain, thanks in no small part to the scale of activity taking place in the Liverpool bay; it’s home to over 270 turbines, with supply chain companies exporting their services and solutions to global markets, including the USA and Asia. It also features the first deployment of the world’s largest wind turbines, the MHI Vestas V164. These make up the Ørsted Burbo Bank Extension wind farm, an array of 32 640ft (195m), 8MW turbines, which is capable of supplying power to almost a quarter of a million homes. Ørsted has also recently established a multi-million pound state-of-the-art O&M Centre on the banks of the River Mersey.
Liverpool Bay is the first location in the world to deploy an innovative Battery Energy Storage Solution (BESS) linked to the 90MW Burbo Bank offshore wind farm. Developed by ABB, who have their UK headquarters in Liverpool City Region, this BESS solution enables the integration of clean energy without compromising grid stability and power quality.
A multi-million pound, state of the art, Operations and Maintenance Centre has also recently been established on the banks of the River Mersey.
The combination of industry and academia living side-by-side, positive national and city region support, and investment in the physical infrastructure, facilitates the sharing of information and expertise to accelerate progress. Liverpool City Region has established itself as an industry leader, and cornerstone of the wind sector in the UK and further afield, supporting and consulting on the development of wind farms right across Europe.
North America is primed to see the same expansion of wind energy that is already taking place in the UK, with many willing developers, and a growing understanding of wind’s vital importance to our future energy mix. But funding the technology itself is only the first step. In Liverpool, and the wider UK, the infrastructure available to developers has made it easier than ever for new wind farms to sprout up all along the coast. If North American cities want to truly realize the environmental and economic benefits of a booming offshore wind industry, they need to ensure that the local infrastructure, and support for the sector, matches their ambition.
Mike King is the Investment Manager for Energy & Maritime at Invest Liverpool and Chair of the Energy & Maritime Place Marketing Sector Group. An Environmental Science graduate from Newcastle University, Mike has been involved in economic development and inward investment for over 13 years, supporting foreign direct investment, industry initiatives, research projects and growing the business base in Liverpool and England’s Northwest.