Despite all the progress, developing wind farms is not for the faint of heart. It’s not suited for those that are light of pocket, either.
This week we were reminded of both fundamental factors when RWE Innogy handed back the rights to bring the Atlantic Array to life.
Hindsight makes it easier but, irrespective, it was always an ambitious project.
Due to have been installed in the fast flowing tidal waters of the Bristol Channel, located in the south west of the UK, the 1.2GW, 240-turbine project was estimated to have cost £4bn, should the vision have become reality.
More importantly though, if successful, it would have become the jewel in RWE Innogy’s offshore wind farm crown – having been expected to build considerably on past and existing experience at Rhyl Flats, Thornton Bank and Gwynt y Môr.
But it just wasn’t to be.
With progress having slowed in recent weeks and the escalating technical costs associated with navigating what was recognised to be a particularly challenging seabed, the economics simply didn’t stack up.
And, when set against a backdrop of wider economic corporate challenges for the German utility in its domestic market, raising project forecasts and budgets was never a realistic possibility.
That, though, is only half the story. Since privately many industry insiders have always acknowledged that, of all the Round 3 projects, the Bristol Channel brief was the most technically complex.
And that’s not just in terms of installing and fixing the kit to the sea floor. It also encapsulates the not inconsiderable challenge of establishing and building out a local supply chain hub.
For, while Bristol already has a burgeoning renewable energy nucleus, the initiative would have been a relatively isolated project – with few opportunities to consolidate resources with other offshore developers and share costs.
That might not be such a problem in the future but it remains a critical barrier as we draw to the end of what has been a tumultuous 2013.
So it all spells doom and gloom? Time to pack up and go home?
We’d never argue as such. For progress in any market can only ever be achieved through failure, setbacks and misadventure.
Moreover, if we weren’t experiencing such high profile pain then we simply wouldn’t be pushing the edge of the envelope in an ambitious energy market.
Just ask any aspiring entrepreneur. To fail is not to have truly tried.
Nevertheless, as RWE Innogy hands back the development rights to the Crown Estate, we’re reminded once again not only of the need to match the right projects with the right development team, but also of the need to take control of the timings and more accurately set future energy investment expectations.
Indeed, as we enter a new phase of development and investment, the ability to better set and control the pace of development is critical to future growth.
Investing in wind farms is an expensive and risky business that requires confidence, stamina and steadfast determination.
Yes, Atlantic Array may have been axed – but this new energy investment game has become a marathon, not a sprint.
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