• Elisha Sempa, Manager |
4 min read

Offshore wind (OSW) has long been recognised as a key component in the path to Net Zero, as a form of clean renewable energy that has significant potential to be scaled around the world.

Here in the UK, we can be proud to be one of the global leaders, with an OSW capacity of 14GW and a pipeline of 2.8GW under construction. Indeed, the government has committed to reaching 50GW with Euro 8.8bn invested into new offshore windfarms (OWF) in 2021. Between 2009 and 2020, there was a massive 715% increase in electricity generation from wind power in the UK – and we also have what is currently the world’s largest offshore windfarm off the coast of Yorkshire.

Globally, there was 58GW of installed OSW in 2022 and predictions are that this will rise to 316GW by 2030. China has become a leader – making up no less than 80% of the added OSW capacity worldwide in 2021 – while India is also expected be a fast-growing market.

The case for scaling OWS as part of the decarbonisation transition is clear – but the significant environmental and social benefits of windfarms are also becoming more widely appreciated and focused upon.

Environmental positives: fish stock boost

The environmental benefits might come as a surprise: OWFs can have a positive impact on fish stocks. Ocean warming has reduced the yield of fisheries around the globe, with some regions experiencing up to 35% declines in maximum sustainable yields. But OSW areas can provide a refuge for juvenile fish, giving fish stocks the potential to replenish. Research has shown that OSW structures can act as artificial reefs and provide habitats for a range of species, providing a long-term positive for fishing communities.

Through early stakeholder engagement to agree exclusion zones and other measures, both the fishing and OSW industries can flourish and biodiversity can be enhanced.

Driving national and local economic benefits

Then there are the economic, social and community benefits. The building of OWFs creates significant employment. Studies of the UK OWS industry estimate that 1,500 FTE jobs are created per GW output during the construction phase. It is also estimated that 350 local FTE jobs are enabled per year per GW output during the life of the equipment (usually around 25 years).

Needless to say, local communities and businesses benefit from this employment as it increases spending and consumption in the local economy – a positive ripple effect.

Employment goes much wider than the immediate construction and maintenance teams, too – as OSW also supports significant supply chains that feed into the research, design and production of the necessary equipment. In the UK today, there are thought to be around 430,000 jobs in low carbon businesses and their supply chains, employing people in locations right around the country.

To maximise the UK content within the OSW industry, the government has agreed an Offshore Wind Sector deal with industry, with an Offshore Wind Growth Partnership of up to £250m supporting better, higher-paying jobs right across the UK.

Consulting with stakeholders, supporting communities

However, there are of course impacts that need to be managed. Whilst windfarms can help to replenish fish stocks, they may also be perceived as a threat to fishing communities and established economic value chains. This is why stakeholder and community engagement is critically important. Affected communities should be involved and engaged at the earliest stage possible to achieve a ‘social license to operate’. For example, a UK OWF project saw considerable consultation work with the local community and stakeholders. Roles were created for a Local Liaison Officer and a Skills and Education Champion (to advise people on jobs and training/upskilling opportunities) based in on location, along with support from a procured, local public engagement agency.

Community benefit funds have also been created to support local groups and organisations in the coastal regions where OWFs are being constructed and operated. Three community benefit funds have so far awarded over £8m to 550 local social and environmental projects along the UK’s east and west coasts.

At the heart of the business case

Going forward, one of the key criteria for the success of any new OSW proposal will be its environmental, social and community impacts. It can’t only be a case of how much electricity can be generated – the wider social benefits are also critical.

As a result, we have certainly been seeing increased demand from clients to help them assess and articulate these factors, developing strategies to engage with stakeholders and show how their project will align with the government’s priorities.

OWS certainly has the wind in its sails – and for those developers and public/private partnerships that get it right, the outlook is bright.

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