Blog 06 Mar 2023

By Ian Taylor, Project Director at Thistle Wind Partners (TWP), a joint venture between DEME Concession, Qair Group and Aspiravi. TWP was awarded leasing sites off the coasts of Orkney and Aberdeenshire for 2GW of floating and fixed-foundation offshore wind in January 2022. 

TWP’s founders have a formidable global renewables footprint: they work on projects across every continent on Earth (excepting Antarctica). Our successful ScotWind bids bring us into the UK market as a wind farm developer for the first time.  

Over the next decade, we will invest significant sums of money in the development of our Scottish sites, and like all ScotWind developers, we have set out some minimum commitments on spending in the Scottish and wider UK supply chain. 

Why are we here? The answer is that we believe in the ScotWind project. We are placing a very large (and if I may so, well-researched and well-informed) bet that Scotland will deliver the routes to market, infrastructure, and modern supply chain that we will need.  

What gives us confidence is the superlative local expertise in offshore engineering and the great enthusiasm for entering the renewables sector, not just in Scotland’s North East but around its coastlines and islands. On hand is a hive of pioneering research into emergent areas like floating wind from the universities of Strathclyde, Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, and Highlands & Islands.  

Most importantly, this renewables drive is led by a Scottish Government whose net-zero targets overshadow those of many larger nations. 

Supply chain – promise and fatigue 

Much has been said and promised about the economic opportunity offered by offshore wind to Scotland. There is fatigue, scepticism, and sometimes distrust of those who paint overly glowing visions and promise wonders of regeneration. After more than twenty years in the renewables industry, and before that the aviation sector, (I started out as a Rolls Royce engineer), I understand the reaction, but I do not agree with it. 

I do think, however, that we need to inject some realism into the picture and start to define what we mean by ‘supply chain opportunity’ much more precisely. That is what Scotland’s businesses need from us if they are to seize the prize offered by an unprecedented wave of renewables development off these shores. 

There are three key requirements for us as a wind developer here, and I’ll start with the one that is too often mentioned as an after-thought – People.  

  1. Skills development – starting early

In past decades, Scotland has not lacked for the core metal-working and fabrication skills needed for offshore construction. Through our projects and our work as part of the ScotWind Collaborative Framework Charter, we want to enable the skills transfer for these workers to renewables. 

That’s important, but by the time we get around to transporting our first turbines out to sea (2029-2030), we will also need the next generation of welders, subsea tech developers, engineers, and cable-installers (we can add roles like marine biologist, data scientist and subsea robotics developers too). Many of those who could construct our project sites will now be in Scottish secondary schools, and when it comes to the later operation of the sites, they could well be in pre-school. 

We – with three other ScotWind developers (those building the Ossian, West of Orkney and Buchan offshore wind farms) – are supporting the University of Highlands & Islands in rolling out early-years STEM training to teachers across Scotland. It’s a start, and our choice to support this programme, shows where my thinking is. This is how we take communities with us, securing workforce for not just the relatively short build-phase, but also the 30 years + of O&M and perhaps a later adoption of more futuristic stuff like robotics and alternative materials.  

  1. At-scale infrastructure for ScotWind’s super-sized turbines 

On the infrastructure side, we need greatly expanded warehousing, dry and wet docks, and quaysides. While I am not able to say exactly how large our turbines will be (we have several years of design selection ahead), as a minimum, we’d need a quay to be 300-500 metres long with at least 30 hectares in area and able to bear loads of around 40t/m2 including dry storage, wet dock for floating foundations and warehousing for components. 

  1. Suppliers who can show readiness 

And finally, we come to suppliers of good, parts and services. The one thing that often counts against local UK suppliers is lack of track record in offshore wind: for developers, who carry high investment risks, an inexperienced supplier nearby can be less attractive than a veteran supplier overseas. 

There are several things to say here: early engagement, a collaborative and flexible approach to delivery, proven track record in another sector, and clear evidence of a business adapting itself to offshore renewables – all these factors mitigate lack of experience.  

Our position is that we are technology agnostic – we will feed offerings from new market entrants into our assessment process on the same footing as global players. There is self-interest in this: the shortlist of suppliers who can deliver products for our harsh, maritime conditions is limited, and with each year, their services become over-stretched. Our sector needs the new players as much as they need us.  

My final thought, one which gives me great confidence in ScotWind’s ability to deliver supply chain development, is the recent experience of our founder companies DEME and Qair in the Mediterranean. Qair’s EolMed floating wind farm (now in construction) has managed to secure 100% local content and a pipeline of fabrication contracts for the port of Port-La Nouvelle, the extension and operation of which will be managed by a structure bringing together public and private players including DEME and Qair. We are keen to take their learnings and replicate them in Scotland as far as we can.  

We should all bear in mind that ScotWind is a precious chance, not just for Scottish supply chain, but for us too: if our generation of developers fails to deliver on our commitments to build local capacity, we may not see a ScotWind #2. 

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