UK: Scotland and England need each other to become European offshore wind leaders

Rachel Parkes

The UK government has stepped up its entreaties to Scotland to jointly develop a world-class renewables industry with its UK neighbours as part of the Union.

Speaking to Renewable Energy Focus, a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said that the Government is confident that Scotland will reject independence, but, pointing to statements made by energy minister Ed Davey, that both countries have much to lose if they are pitted against each other in race to become an European-size offshore wind hub.

Davey, who spoke at a Scottish party conference this month, told delegates that meeting the UK’s renewables target of 15% of energy by 2020 “is a tough ask already”. He added: “If England has to do it for itself, by itself, it will probably be even tougher – given Scotland has relatively more renewable sources. Yet the economics of renewables is that Scotland needs English consumers to help pay for the renewables, as the technology develops. The truth is, we need each other.”

The statement come as Scotland and the rest of the UK jostle for position in a contest to become a European offshore wind hub, against a backdrop of a 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

What is yet to become clear is whether or not the two countries would continue to work “as one” on offshore wind development projects - such as the UK-wide Renewables Catapult, or whether one country or the other will emerge as a clear winner in the race to become Europe’s offshore wind hub with the best manufacturing and research and development facilities.

The UK’s national wind turbine testing centre, Narec, based in the north of England, told Renewable Energy Focus that this issue is not currently on the agenda.

“This is not in our considerations at the moment – we are part of the [Catapult] consortium with the Carbon Trust and Ocean Energy Innovation developing the ORE Catapult Centre with public funding secured for the next 5 years,” said a spokesman. “It is important to clarify that as a national centre for the UK, Narec does not favour any particular region and works nationally and internationally on R&D collaborations.”

Infrastructure investment

Both the UK and Scottish Governments have launched targeted infrastructure funds to attract investment – the UK has so far committed £60m to upgrade its ports for the sector, as well as £50m to offshore wind R&D, while Scotland has launched a £70million National Renewables Infrastructure fund to upgrade port infrastructure in a number of strategic locations.

The investment drive has met with some success. In Scotland, Mitsubishi has committed to invest £100 million developing its new 6MW offshore wind turbine in Edinburgh, while Gamesa has already set up an R&D facility just outside Glasgow; and Samsung has committed to a £100 million testing and manufacturing site for its 7MW turbine in Methil, Fife.

Meanwhile, in England, Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas has plans to build a manufacturing base for its 7MW offshore turbine in Kent, while Siemens is proposing an £80 million facility in Hull. In Wales, engineering firm Mabey Bridge is already operating its wind turbine tower manufacturing base in Chepstow, receiving an order for 45 towers from Nordex in January.

An additional £150 million investment prospect from Gamesa currently hangs in the balance, with speculation mounting that the site that Gamesa chooses – currently the options on the table are Leith and Hartlepool – will determine which country takes the lead as an offshore wind centre of excellence.

Scotland’s renewables sector remains tight lipped when asked about potential post-independence scenarios, but is confident that Scotland can lead the way whether it is part of the UK or not.

“It’s a combination of all these things; rich resource of expertise in oil and gas, strong political will, good academic research, and an abundance of natural resource which attracts significant investment in Scotland’s offshore wind industry, helping secure us as a global centre of excellence,” said Johanna Yates, offshore policy manager at Scottish Renewables.

According to Tom Lamb, international senior manager at Scottish Development international, a key part of Scotland’s strategy is to position itself as a European player, rather than simply as just a UK location. “The way that we position this with potential investors is: if you come into Scotland you will access the European markets, as a European location, in addition to what is happening in Scottish and UK waters.”

He added: “And the capabilities that are here, in engineering research development. One should not forget the offshore expertise that is here that’s grown up around the North Sea oil and gas industry over the last 30 years. There’s a huge amount of experience in putting structures on the sea bed and maintaining them. That is a significant pull for companies because they can see and access expertise that’s already here. That can give them a short cut to market.”

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