LONDON New technology and careful choice of sites could slash projected costs for Britain's next round of offshore wind farm project by as much as 40 percent, the Carbon Trust, which advises the government, said on Tuesday.
Capital investment required for Round 3 offshore wind projects could fall to 45 billion pounds ($72.5 billion) from current projections of 75 billion, said officials from the independent body, set up by the government to help Britain meet carbon reduction targets.
While the Round 3 project to build 29 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 is a challenge equivalent to building eight Channel Tunnels in 10 years and requires a step-change in technology, it is achievable, Benj Sykes, Senior Technology Acceleration Manager, told reporters.
He projected that offshore wind farms could supply about 90 terawatt hours of electricity by 2020, comprising the bulk of 151 terawatt hours required from renewable sources.
On Friday the Crown Estate, in charge of Britain's coastal seabed, is to announce winners in a tender for Round 3, the world's largest offshore wind project, which is divided into nine zones.
The programme is aimed at expanding the country's offshore wind farms, already the world's biggest at around 1 GW, to around 33-40 GW by 2020 to source a third of its power from renewable energy.
"It's easy not to grasp the scale of challenge," Sykes said. "There's huge step change required."
The Round 3 farms would be built in depths of up to 60 meters, compared with 25 meters for previous rounds. They would be also up to 205 km off the coast, compared with 25 km now.
It would require setting up every year about 500 turbines -- which are taller than the 180-meter "Gherkin" building in London -- by around 2013, compared with around 280 achieved last year, and accelerate the speed to about 1,000 by 2019.
However, Phil de Villiers, Offshore Wind Acceleration Manager, said it had identified four technological improvement areas, such as foundations, that would reduce capital expenditure and operational costs while improving yields.
It was looking into technology such as floating foundations or better electricity transmission systems that could cut costs by 14 billion pounds. Picking sites in shallower water would bring additional savings of 16 billion pounds.
"If offshore wind is going to be the real success that it needs to be and can be, we've got to do things faster, we've got to get things installed faster, we've got to do it cheaply and more safely," said Sykes.
He said the industry could also deliver about 250,000 jobs by 2050 and 65 billion pounds in net benefit, while abating carbon emissions by around 35 megatonnes by 2020.
(Reporting by Nao Nakanishi, editing by Anthony Barker)