Offshore wind needs £10bn to avoid missing green targets

Britain's offshore wind ambitions will face a £10bn funding gap within five years, energy experts will warn today, and the Government's legally-binding 2020 green targets will not be met unless the deficit can be closed.

This comes a day after Energy Minister Chris Huhne revealed plans for a huge expansion of the UK's wind turbines, saying wind power would be an "important part" of meeting the country's energy demands in the future.

A whopping £30bn of capital investment in offshore wind farms is needed over the coming decade if the UK is to produce the 30 per cent of electricity from renewable sources needed to comply with European regulations, according to the report from consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The number dwarfs current levels of investment, which run at around £8bn a year for all the utilities and National Grid combined. Given that the average offshore wind farm takes more than three years to construct, the £3bn annual investment requirement creates a capex exposure of £10bn by 2015.

"A massive injection of money is needed," Michael Hurley, head of energy at PwC, said. "We need a radical new plan to deal with what is going to be one of the biggest issues facing the Government in the aftermath of the departmental spending review [this autumn]."

The problem is that the money cannot come from the cash-strapped government. And with just £2bn of capital, the coalition government's planned Green Investment Bank will neither have sufficient funds to solve the problem nor have the remit to solve the problems in the design of the market.

Trickier still, the risks associated with offshore wind farms – both in terms of the construction process and the unpredictable power price – are putting off the companies that might build them, and the financiers that might help them raise the money.

"The real issue is the ramp-up required to meet the 2020 target is very, very significant," Mr Hurley said. "Business as usual simply will not work."

There are a variety of options available to the Government to help spur investment in offshore wind, says PwC. The simplest – already adopted in parts of the United States – is to add a flat levy to customer bills, to be spelled out separately from existing standing and usage charges. It is difficult to estimate the size of such a levy.

A more complex version of the same principle is to put the provision of offshore infrastructure within the existing, regulated estate of National Grid, thus leaving the fundraising to a single corporate entity. But the move is unlikely to prove popular with the company because it would leave it over-exposed to the massive construction risks associated with offshore wind.

Alternatively, the Government could approach the problem by raising the returns of the investment, by boosting the number of Renewable Obligations Certificates (ROCs) – the system already in place to reward green generation – associated with offshore wind.

Whatever strategy is pursued has to appeal to utilities and potential financial backers – ideally either pension funds or Individual Savings Account (ISA) holders, says PwC. "You may have an economic mechanism that works but [you] still have to get someone to finance it," Mr Hurley said. "The key is to make it attractive to pension funds, so it has to be simple."

The offshore wind industry is more bullish. Although Renewable UK supports the call for improved regulation, the lobby group denies that without such changes, the money will not be found. "The sums are huge and the structure of finance deals does not need a whole new approach," Maria McCaffery, the chief executive, said. "But the number of international investors beating a path to our door suggests a healthy level of interest."

There are 253 wind farms already in the UK, and 12 offshore. Mr Huhne this weekend identified Dogger Bank in the North Sea as the potential site for an offshore wind project.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in