The winds of change on the East Anglian coast: How Germany’s Wikinger wind farm offers a glimpse of region’s future
- Credit: Archant
The East Anglian coastline is becoming a world leader for the offshore wind industry – but the lessons are being imported from abroad. Business editor MARK SHIELDS visited Germany's Wikinger wind farm to find out more.
In the wild expanse of the Baltic Sea, more than 20 miles off the coast of Germany, a glimpse into the future of East Anglia's changing energy landscape is emerging.
Row upon row of rugged steel foundations stand against the pounding waves, ready for the arrival of towers and turbines, to complete a scene soon to be recreated off the north Suffolk coast.
The Wikinger wind farm, off the seaside town of Sassnitz on Germany's northern coastline, will be completed by next year, but the lessons that are being learned by its developer ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) will feed into its next major project: East Anglia One.
That £2.5bn field off the coast of Suffolk, comprising 102 turbines which the company claims could generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 500,000 homes, will begin construction next year with the intention of being fully operational by 2020.
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And if all runs smoothly, it could be just the first of four East Anglian Array projects developed by SPR, which could keep the company in the region for the next half-century.
The EDP joined East Anglia One project director Charlie Jordan as he visited northern Germany, where he stressed 'industrialisation and innovation' were the project's priorities.
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'Wikinger is the first project in which ScottishPower Renewables has taken 100% ownership, so there is a lot of learning to be taken forward to East Anglia One,' he said.
'The East Anglia One project will be significant nationally and in the industry. Cost reduction is a big focus, and East Anglia One has slashed costs, which has been the catalyst for changes elsewhere in the industry.
'We're looking at industrialisation and innovation to drive down costs, which we can do in East Anglia because we have such consistent conditions.'
Those innovations include refining the design of the foundations from one project to the next – a change which can deliver big savings when repeated over 102 multi-million pound platforms.
Great Yarmouth has been confirmed as the marshalling port where assembly of the turbines will take place, while Lowestoft will be the site of the operations and maintenance base, which will support 100 jobs for the 25-year life of East Anglia One, though more are expected in long-term support contracts.
Meanwhile in Germany, the port of Sassnitz has been alive with activity since installation work began earlier this year, with foundations arriving from two overseas fabrication yards before being transported to the field and lifted on to the underwater concrete pilings.
The new jobs have been welcomed in the town, with the hope that the East Anglia Array could deliver a similar boost in Norfolk and Suffolk, where the oil and gas downturn has hit companies hard.
'East Anglia has got the infrastructure: good port facilities, a really good supply chain, a lot of experience and transferable skills,' said Mr Jordan.
At least half of East Anglia One's £2.5bn cost will be spent in the UK, though the domestic supply chain was this week dealt a blow when the contract for the substation – through which the power is transferred onshore - was awarded to a Spanish fabrication yard.
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The Wikinger project has brought new jobs and stability to the seaside resort of Sassnitz, according to the town's mayor.
Sassnitz has strong tourist and fishing industries – much like Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft – with an ageing population and few new job opportunities, said mayor Frank Kracht.
'In the tourism industry, the jobs depend on the season, but this project has created jobs the whole year round,' he said. 'The wind farm has brought new people to live and work in the town, but also allowed local people to return and find new jobs.'
The operations and maintenance base at Sassnitz's Mukran port has created 50 jobs with more expected to be created, and others supported in the supply chain, once the wind farm is operational.
Mr Kracht said he hoped the Wikinger project would be the first of many.
'I think that there are going to be many offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea, and I hope Mukran port will have its place as the operations and maintenance port for them.'
Mr Kracht admitted there had been uneasiness that visible turbines could hit the town's tourism, but with the wind farm located 20 miles offshore those fears had proved unfounded.
The three projects lined up beyond East Anglia One could keep ScottishPower Renewables in the region for the next 50 years.
That is the view of project director Charlie Jordan, who said collaboration with other major developers was key in ensuring a pipeline of skilled workers ready to operate and maintain the wind farms. The company has already sponsored post-graduate student places at the University of East Anglia and is working with colleges to promote the study of STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths.
Other wind farms developments such as Norfolk Vanguard and Boreas, Dudgeon, and Galloper are likely to add to the competition.
'We will be in the region with wind farms for the next 40 or 50 years, so we recognise this is a long-term investment,' said Mr Jordan. 'It's not just installing turbines and foundations: we are going to need geologists, geotechnical engineers, ocean engineers, environmental scientists. There's a whole raft of qualifications that make up the skills we require.'
The company is already looking to build its supply chain, and an awareness event earlier this year attracted 300 people, with more events planned early next year.
Mr Jordan added: 'There's a lot of good skills in the area, but the issue is going to be volume, when you look at the projects coming down the line.'