Season 5, Post 15: Not quite full speed
Anyone living in London will be aware that Spring has been a long time coming, as your author can attest. Last week saw wind speeds reach over 40 miles per hour. The good news, at least, from these less than pleasant climactic conditions is that wind and solar now produce 12% of global electricity. In the UK, there are theoretically enough turbines in place to power almost all the country’s needs.
Some might regard a turbine as a thing of beauty, or at least an architectural wonder. To keep with the London-centric theme of this piece, the largest currently have blades as long as Big Ben is tall, with an arc wider than the Millennium Wheel. Few people want such monster turbines blighting their bucolic British landscapes and so they are increasingly being built offshore. Wind speeds are often faster here, and project developers can benefit from scale economics. The largest turbines located off the Yorkshire coast at Dogger Bank can power an average UK household for two days with just one sweep of their blades.
Given the growing importance of wind – and especially offshore – in the energy mix for many countries, we had the chance recently to speak with one of the industry’s experts on this topic. Now working for a consultancy, our contact spent many years in offshore project development, primarily for European utilities. He described how offshore wind “initially surprised everyone” in terms of how quickly like-for-like costs versus other renewable sources came down, and rollout correspondingly accelerated. However, he also noted that growth had stalled, given the growing industry realisation that “offshore wind is not an easy game”, particularly relative to onshore.
The main issue for offshore project developers is simply that they are dealing with “a massive piece of infrastructure.” Before construction even begins, permitting can be a lengthy progress which may need to take in a detailed analysis of soil conditions (where the turbines would be bedded) and environmental campaigns relating to species consideration. This process can take up to five years. Once the green light is given here, the next stage is to start building. Supply chain shortages have been well-documented elsewhere but are particularly profound for offshore owing to the complexity of the materials required for the construction of the foundations and the lack of available installation vessels. Many industry stakeholders are lobbying governments to accelerate the permitting process (also an issue in the onshore world). We believe this is necessary but will take time. The industry is still some way from reaching full speed.
20 April 2023
The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
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Alex Gunz, Fund Manager
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