East Anglia is at the heart of the UK’s renewable energy sector, with 43% of the nation’s offshore wind generated on our shores. But industry experts warn it is facing one of its toughest periods yet. BETHANY WALES looks at four of the biggest challenges it must overcome to meet the country's ambitious renewable targets.

Soaring costs

Soaring prices at every point in the supply chain are threatening to paralyse green energy projects.

Developers in East Anglia said construction costs had rocketed 40pc, amid inflation and supply chain issues caused by the war in Ukraine.

Eastern Daily Press: Vattenfall halted work on its Norfolk Boreas project due to rising costsVattenfall halted work on its Norfolk Boreas project due to rising costs (Image: Vattenfall)

Swedish energy giant Vattenfall became a casualty of this in June, when it announced it had been forced to halt plans for its Norfolk Boreas project due to rising costs. 

But the problem is far from company-specific.

Martin Dronfield, a director of the Opergy group, said even if the project was bought by a different developer, high costs would still make finishing it difficult.

Eastern Daily Press: Martin Dronfield, a former-director of the Opergy groupMartin Dronfield, a former-director of the Opergy group (Image: News Quest)

He said: “The challenges [they face] are not developer specific, they are industry specific.

“I do not believe that the chances of building the wind farm would be improved simply by changing the ownership.”

READ MORE: 'New buyer won't save Vattenfall's Norfolk Boreas windfarm'

A lack of government backing

Despite the government’s ambitious target of 50 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, those in the industry say it has done little to help companies achieve this.

Barriers to planning permission - which include a 'de facto ban' on new onshore wind farms which, up until three weeks ago, could be blocked if there was a single local objection to the scheme - and a lack of investment from the government have been blamed for hindering the progress of new projects.

Its most recent renewable energy auction failed to attract a single offshore wind developer, with insiders suggesting firms refused to take part because the maximum price they could have charged for the energy generated was too low to keep up with rising costs.

Rob Anderson, project director of Vattenfall’s Norfolk Zone, said: “Conditions are extremely challenging across the whole industry right now, with a supply chain squeeze and a global dash for offshore wind, increasing costs, and financial frameworks not reflecting current market realities.

Eastern Daily Press: Rob Anderson, Project Director of Vattenfall’s Norfolk ZoneRob Anderson, Project Director of Vattenfall’s Norfolk Zone (Image: News Quest)“While the industry is not immune to the changing global macroeconomic situation, offshore wind remains far cheaper than expensive oil and gas and provides a long-term, affordable solution to energy security challenges, as well as providing investment, employment, and environmental benefits.

“To realise all of those benefits, offshore wind developers need the government to provide certainty that the financial risks can be managed and that policy and fiscal frameworks reflect the current situation in the market.”

READ MORE: Norfolk renewable energy sector anger over auction results

The skills gap 

The rapid evolution of renewables, coupled with a generation of experienced workers retiring, has led to a major skills gap.

This shortage has a knock-on effect, causing delays and reduced efficiency, pushing up the cost of energy production and generally making life harder for developers.

Gillian Noble, managing director of offshore development and operations at Scottish Power, said that while apprenticeship schemes and increasing the number of relevant university degrees were important, more is needed to fill the gap.

Eastern Daily Press: Gillian Noble, managing director of offshore development and operations at Scottish PowerGillian Noble, managing director of offshore development and operations at Scottish Power (Image: News Quest)

She said: “It's about the outreach to the schools and how much we can impact large quantities of school age children so they’re thinking about these careers early on, because in 15 years time we’re going to need them.”

And while we often speak about the engineer shortage, Ms Noble said a whole range of skills were lacking. 

She said: “We need project managers, we need people that can assess data, people that can look at commercial contracts, and we need stakeholder managers in the local community.”

“The problem is that you can’t just magic the skills up when you’re ready to build the wind farm. You have to be planning over a period of time. It can’t just be on a project basis. 

“The whole market is so competitive, that's why there's so many jobs because there’s so many developers. 

“You really needed to have invested five to ten years ago to have those skills coming through.”

Insufficient infrastructure 

Limited capacity in the electricity grid is creating serious issues for companies trying to connect. 

The system, which was built in 1935 when just a few fossil fuel power plants were requesting a connection each year, is struggling to cope with the thousands of new applications from green energy projects.

Backlogs of up to 15 years are not only causing hold-ups, but also scaring off investors, according to developers. 

Rob Bush, operations manager at East of England Energy Group (EEEGR) said: “There is no escaping that our region's infrastructure needs investment and improvement. 

Eastern Daily Press: Vattenfall is set to build one of the world's largest wind farms off the Norfolk coast, if it can overcome cost challengesVattenfall is set to build one of the world's largest wind farms off the Norfolk coast, if it can overcome cost challenges (Image: Vattenfall)

“The A47 is receiving some much-needed investment, but more is needed to remove the current bottlenecks and decrease journey times. 

“But it’s not just road and rail that needs investment, access to high speed, reliable internet in both businesses and households is needed across the region to ensure we don’t fall behind the rest of the country.”