Quietly, the U.K. has emerged as one of the worlds more promising offshore wind markets in harnessing the strong, steady power of ocean breezes to electrify homes and business.
The problem has been in establishing a supply chain from gearboxes, bearings and generators, to large castings and forgings to meet its ambitious stated goal of 20 GW of installed offshore wind capacity in the next 10 years. And increasingly, the British government is looking to U.S. manufacturers for help.
With one offshore wind farm set to begin commercial operations in the next year, and another three having already received government approval, the U.K. has targeted large OEMs like G.E. to more modest-sized manufacturers in the U.S. to provide the array of componentry required to fulfill its projects.
We have supply chain gaps to fill and the biggest supply chain gap for us is manufacturing, says Joanne Howard, vice consul (Energy) at U.K. Trade & Investment (UKTI), a government organization associated with the British consulate responsible for promoting trade and investment.
Until last year, the only large wind OEM to penetrate the British market with Clipper Windpower. But in recent months, G.E. invested over $136 million to build the U.K.s first wind turbine manufacturing plant, while Siemens, Vestas and Mitsubishi also announced multi-million dollar deals.
Since October, Howard and the UKTI have coordinated delegations of smaller U.S. manufacturers to provide information and meetings with British offshore wind developers.
This is for companies looking to get into that market, she said. But it also serves to build up their expertise so theyll be ready for when the off-shore wind market hits the U.S. and becomes more commercially viable in maybe five to eight years time.
Similar to oil and gas projects, offshore wind requires a well-established supply chain, including blade manufacturing, foundation and cable fabrication, along with port and vessel capabilities.
This is a tremendous opportunity for the U.K., but its also a fast-growing market, says Howard. When think of everything that goes into a wind turbine blades, gearboxes, control systems, machined parts, electrical components, bearings and castings its a strong signal for the need for manufacturing.