United Kingdom

United Kingdom

UK 'falls short' in key offshore supply chain sectors

UK: The UK has excelled at designing, installing and servicing offshore projects, but is falling short in the manufacturing and supply of key components, a government-commissioned report has found.

The UK's London Array is the largest offshore project in the world
The UK's London Array is the largest offshore project in the world

The UK Offshore Wind Supply Chain: Capabilities and Opportunities report by BVG Associates showed Britain scoring full marks in wind farm design, with UK companies having designed most of the wind farms in its waters.

UK businesses have been successful in winning these contracts because there is a strong presence of specialist wind energy consultancies and the UK footprint of global high-voltage engineering companies is significant, the study showed.

Previously, the government has trumpeted indications by a number of large suppliers, such as Gamesa and Areva, that they may build turbine manufacturing plants in the UK. But the report finds that manufacturers are unlikely to commit until there is "greater clarity on government commitment to the industry beyond 2020".

The private ownership of many UK waterside facilities is highlighted as a factor that may limit their cost-effective availability to the offshore wind industry. The size of next-generation turbines means that new, sufficiently large waterside locations are needed to enable efficient logistics.

But such facilities in the UK require higher investment and a commitment to the long leases sought by the private owners of suitable port sites.

When it comes to gearboxes, however, the UK has significant suppliers for the offshore wind industry. GE Power Conversion is a market leader in the supply of power convertors and large electrical machines. David Brown Wind UK was the gearbox supplier for Samsung Heavy Industries' prototype 7MW turbine.

But existing facilities can only supply small quantities. New waterside facilities for assembly or full manufacture would be needed if the supply is to grow, said the report.

The UK has provided towers for the onshore wind market, but only in low volumes for offshore wind. A number of onshore tower manufacturers have no waterside access, which restricts offshore opportunities.

Some tower manufacturers were found to be negotiating with owners of coastal sites, but no investment plans have been announced that would enable the supply of offshore towers in large quantity.

The UK was found to be performing strongly in the supply of array cabling. British manufacturers have supplied around 40% of array cable length used in UK wind farms up to the end of 2012.

JDR Cable Systems is the only current UK manufacturer of subsea cables for the offshore wind industry. It supplied around 200 kilometres of cable for both the Greater Gabbard and London Array projects. JDR has also been successful in exporting to the German offshore wind market.

But the UK has no capacity to manufacture cable cores for subsea cables, which represent about 40% of cable cost. JDR currently imports these from continental Europe.

And when it comes to subsea export cables, UK suppliers are nowhere to be seen. The report finds that there has been no UK supply of subsea export cables to offshore wind to date. JDR has made steps towards the manufacture of high-voltage alternating-current subsea cables and has received a £2 million (EUR 2.4 million) UK government grant to assist cable development.

Foundations were another point where the UK fell short. The only project to use all UK-sourced monopiles so far has been the shallow-water Scroby Sands project in 2004. The supply contract was for the 30 relatively small monopiles.

However, the report found that there are UK suppliers with the capacity to supply large projects, including extra-large monopiles. Investment has been made by a number of companies, but these are still in the process of building up industry track record and securing long-term orders.

Conversely, the report found that installation has been an area that Britain has excelled in. UK companies have played key roles in foundation installation, cable laying and turbine installation, and were found to have the capacity to increase their involvement significantly.

Operations and maintenance was another field in which UK firms were strong. Most servicing and personnel transfer vessels have been made in the UK and are operated by UK firms. The UK's experience in the North Sea oil and gas industry has led to the development of a wide range of solutions for safe access to offshore structures, the report found.

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