Catapult needs cooperation to ensure cost cuts


August 18, 2014

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Rival firms working on projects that benefit the whole industry. It’s a great idea, but rarely happens as people get caught in the cut-and-thrust of running a business.

It is in this cynical spirit that we received the news that the UK Government’s Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult had formed a group of eight major offshore wind operators to look at how to improve maintenance and reliability of offshore wind farms. The eight firms are Centrica, Dong Energy, EDF Energy, E.On, RWE, Scottish Power, SSE and Vattenfall.

This will look at major issues including cable damage and blade corrosion.

Now don’t get us wrong, the idea is good. The Catapult wants to cut the costs of running offshore wind farms, which makes up one-third of their lifetime cost. This could reduce the cost of energy from offshore projects by a third, from £150/MWh now to under £100/MWh.

If the costs and headaches of running offshore wind farms are reduced then it stands to reason that developers will be more keen to build them, investors will want to invest, and governments will want to push them through the planning system. That would be ideal.

But we have to be cautious because this group gives us deja vu.

The Carbon Trust has its Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA), which is a group of nine major players that was set up in 2008 to focus on reducing the cost of offshore wind to less than £100/MWh. Six of these — Dong, E.On, RWE, Scottish Power, SEE and Vattenfall — are also in the Catapult group, along with Mainstream Renewable Power, Statkraft and Statoil.

The OWA is conducting interesting research and is backing small firms with grants to build out their ideas, which it says has put it on track to cut 10% from the cost of offshore wind energy since 2008. That would be a decent contribution but it has taken six years to get there, and the ORE Catapult’s group must work quickly if it is to make an impact by 2020.

So can the Catapult make that happen?

It has the facilities. Since its merger with the National Renewable Energy Centre in April, it has access to Narec’s technology testing centre in Blyth, Northumberland.

It has senior expertise and industry knowledge, as well as links in to government.

And we have no doubt that the major players around its table will have good ideas about how to improve offshore performance and reliability.

However, if the group is to succeed, then the Catapult needs to give those major players the incentive to engage and act.

For instance, they may decide to set up a cable repair club to quickly fix future cable problems; but will the Catapult be able to convince operators that they should focus on future challenges rather than those they are experiencing today?

It will have to do so if it is to make a major dent in offshore wind energy costs.

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