Eddie O’Connor’s key-note address at the C&F European Offshore Wind Summit in London

C&F European Offshore Wind Summit
London, 27 April 2009
Keynote Address
by
Dr. Eddie O’Connor
CEO, Mainstream Renewable Power
“Creating a Pan-European Grid”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have great pleasure in welcoming you to this inaugural European Offshore Wind Summit. The agenda for the next two days is formidable and weighty. The task of this Summit is to respond to the greatest challenge of the next half century.

It can be simply expressed. “How do we reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions by 80% over the next forty years by switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy and, at the same time, allow the economy to grow and society to flourish?”

The answer cannot be so simply formulated. But it is our responsibility at this Summit to lay the foundations for a technically feasible and economically viable solution. That is why the papers to be delivered over the next two days reflect a pragmatic and practical approach to meeting the low carbon challenge. Their primary concern is dealing with “how” to do things rather than debating “why” they should be done.

The debate has moved on beyond the “why”. The analysis has been completed. Now comes the practical bit.

We have to think creatively about how to do things that were never done before. We have to innovate. We have to be prepared to take risks, to act adventurously, to give leadership, to be prepared to make mistakes and, when we do, to have the courage to start over.

For my part, I have elected to tackle “Creating a Pan-European Supergrid” as the theme of my key note address.

The Supergrid is a concept I first launched eight years ago. It has now evolved to the point where it is a project.

Consequently, the focus is on thinking out the pathways to the Supergrid. That’s why I intend this morning to offer some new solutions to problems we have been grappling with for quite a while.

My point of departure may appear self evident but it is one which we need to repeat over and over again. Offshore wind power generation is a completely different technology from onshore. The offshore wind industry is not the onshore wind industry with wet feet.

Furthermore, it is an infant industry. In contrast, onshore wind generation has entered the mature phase.

Offshore, the environment is different – that’s obvious. The risks are greater – that’s clear. The technical solutions will be quite distinct – that’s understood.

We have to be pioneers.

Offshore wind is the new industrial frontier.

I relish the task ahead.

When approaching a project, such as the Supergrid, I begin by placing it in context. To do that, I try to vision the future and work out the scale of what has to be done and the time frame within which it has to be accomplished.

Here is my thinking about the future of Offshore Wind Power in Europe in order to put the Supergrid in its proper context.

The European economy will continue to grow over the decades ahead, despite the current economic depression. Demand for electricity will increase progressively, not just as a consequence of economic growth but, more fundamentally, because of a transformation within the economy itself. We are heading into an era of what can be called the “electric economy”.

Electricity is set to become the dominant source of energy. By 2050, for example, all surface transport will be powered by electricity, with the possible exception of some heavy commercial vehicles.

There will, of course, be major advances in energy efficiency but even when these are taken into account the anticipated growth in electricity demand will be between two to three per cent per annum.

At an average growth rate of two per cent, demand will double by 2050. At a three per cent growth rate, it will more than treble.

If we are to slash carbon emissions by 80% then all of this increased demand will have to be met by renewable energy. And existing coal, oil and gas generation will be phased out by then. After 2030 there will be no more fossil fuel plant built. Fossil fuel production will have disappeared by 2050. It will be replaced by renewables and nuclear.

Consequently, I envisage that by 2050 the generation mix will be:
50% wind

30% solar

10% other renewables, such as ocean energy, and

10% nuclear.

Growth rates of two and three per cent in electricity demand allow us to put lower and upper limits on the new generation capacity needed by 2050.

A simple extrapolation of current generation capacity at these rates and an average capacity factor of 35% indicate that we will need to install between 1.2m and 1.8m Megawatts of wind by 2050.

But even the most optimistic forecasts for on-shore wind are limited to approximately 200,000 Megawatts by 2050.

Planning and political obstacles are intensifying. Besides, we are running out of suitable sites.

This means that somewhere between 1.0m and 1.6 Megawatts of offshore wind will have to be installed over the next forty years.

At an average cost of £3m per Megawatt the total investment will be between £3 trillion and £4.8 trillion. This is a gigantic investment.

It will be the biggest ever spend in the EU.

It will also be the biggest construction project ever undertaken in the EU.

These orders of magnitude give some idea of the task ahead.

At this point it is important to be clear about what we mean by the term “Supergrid”.

I have defined a Supergrid as

“An electricity transmission system, mainly based on direct current, designed to facilitate large scale sustainable power generation in remote areas for transmission to centres of consumption, one of whose fundamental attributes will be the enhancement of the market in electricity”.

In this instance, the “remote areas” are the waters off the North Eastern and North Western shores of Europe. The centres of consumption are the maritime countries; the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and the Baltic States.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, not only are we tasked with building a new form of grid of enormous proportions but we are required to build it offshore. These are separate undertakings which have never been attempted before but, to add to the complexity, we have to do both simultaneously.

Unlike the US or China, which also have to build Supergrids, but on land, we Europeans have to build at sea. Hence we are entering unknown territory.

But, I approach this challenge fortified by the engineers’ motto that “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer”. And, I might add, inspired by the project engineer’s approach to large scale construction: break it down into manageable chunks.

On that basis, let me divide the task of creating a Pan-European Supergrid into seven discrete segments:

1.

Ports

2.

Logistics

3.

Construction

4.

Generation

5.

Transmission

6.

Governance

7.

Finance.

Let’s start with port facilities. This may seem a strange place to start but we are dealing with the task of building at sea. While the turbines may be manufactured on land they have to be transported by sea to the point of installation. Here we have an immediate problem. Because of the size of the individual turbines and also because of the sheer numbers that have to be assembled and loaded onto ships, I can see no alternative but to develop two completely new ports, one on either coast of the UK.

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