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Tina Casey headshot

Scotland Ramps Up Offshore Wind, Benefits Ripple Across the Pond

By Tina Casey

Scotland has been in the vanguard of the global offshore wind energy race, and in the latest development the Scottish government has just committed additional funding to the Offshore Wind Accelerator, an initiative of The Carbon Trust. OWA launched in 2008 with core support from Scotland, and it gained steam last year, when nine offshore wind developers lent their financial muscle to the mission of lowering the cost of offshore wind.

That's good news for the U.S., where political obstacles have delayed the development of the nation's vast offshore wind resources. The nine developers share a global reach between them, and the prospect of lower costs could help break the U.S. offshore logjam.

The Carbon Trust and offshore wind development in the U.S.

The Carbon Trust is a not-for-profit green consulting firm that launched in 2001 with a focus on helping all comers -- businesses, governments and nonprofits -- to realize the bottom line benefits of decarbonization and sustainability.

The Offshore Wind Accelerator is Carbon Trust's "flagship" research and development collaboration with private industry. When it was established in 2008, OWA included nine partners that collectively accounted for 76 percent of installed offshore capacity in Europe: Europe; DONG Energy, EnBW, E.ON, Iberdrola, Innogy, SSE (the renewable energy division of Scottish and Southern Energy), Statkraft, Statoil and Vattenfall.

OWA emphasizes innovation as the primary pathway to cost reduction:

Technology challenges are identified and prioritised by the OWA partners based on the likely savings and the potential for the OWA to influence the outcomes. Projects are carried out to address these challenges, often using international competitions to inspire innovation and identify the best new ideas. The most promising concepts are developed, de-risked and commercialised as the OWA works closely with innovators and the supply chain throughout the process.

The U.S. Department of Energy has practiced a similar model of public-private partnerships and competitions designed to stimulate and encourage innovators, though primarily in the solar energy field. Efforts to stimulate private sector interest in offshore wind have lagged behind in the U.S., partly due to market uncertainty.

There are a number of factors at play, including the political environment. In 2010 the Obama administration attempted to coordinate offshore wind development along the wind rich Atlantic Coast, but several states refused to join a memorandum of understanding or failed to follow through on their commitments. Before Obama left office, the Department of the Interior finally began leasing out offshore areas with or without support from state-level political leaders.

As a result, while other nations have had "steel in the water" for years, the U.S. has only one offshore wind farm in operation, a modestly-sized five-turbine development that began commercial operations off the coast of tiny Rhode Island in May.

Progress under the Trump administration is uncertain considering the President's antipathy toward renewables in general and wind in particular. However, as of this writing the Interior Department is still carrying out its offshore lease program and it looks like Block Island will have company sooner rather than later -- thanks in part to the OWA collaboration.

Last spring, for example, the OWA partner Ibderola won the right to develop 1,500 megawatts of capacity off the coast of North Carolina, through its Avangrid branch.

In addition, Trump's interest in promoting oil and gas development off the Atlantic could backfire if state political leaders decide that wind is the lesser of two evils. Though coastal states are mindful of the visual impact of wind turbines on tourist traffic, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body wrote a draft plan for ocean management last year that leans heavily on offshore wind.

Scotland ramps up offshore commitment

The new round of £1.5 million in funding for OWA places Scotland firmly in the lead of offshore wind energy development.

Scotland's Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, announced the funding with a "ringing endorsement" linking economic development to clean energy:

...The potential benefits of offshore wind energy in Scotland are enormous, which is why the Scottish Government is committed to its development. By continuing to invest in it, not only are we stimulating economic change for the better, but we’re also helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland and helping to fight the impacts of climate change.

The Director of Carbon Trust, Jan Matthieson, emphasized that the mission of OWA is to enable offshore wind to compete with fossil fuels without subsidies. The advent of "subsidy-free" offshore wind development would effectively knock out one of the main arguments used against renewable energy development.

The new funding will enable OWA and its nine partners to continue exploring opportunities and overcoming challenges to the development additional wind energy in Scottish waters, and share innovations that lead to lower costs.

Trump proposes, Scotland disposes

Scotland's enthusiasm for wind energy is somewhat ironic, considering the notorious controversy that erupted over the location of the new Aberdeen wind farm within sight of a Trump golf course and resort.

Plans for the resort and related development took off in 2007 but are yet to be realized in full, partly because the President has contended that the turbines would ruin the view from the links.

As of last year Trump was losing the legal battle. He continued losing it earlier this month, when Scotland's environmental agency nixed the President's plans to develop a second course at the resort.

Adding insult to injury, the 11-turbine wind farm is not just any ordinary wind farm. It's also the future home of the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre, which will closely monitor the performance of next-generation technology aimed at increasing efficiency and lowering costs.

If it all works out, the technology improvements will be shared among the corporate partners and ripple out to new wind projects in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.

Stay tuned.

Image (screenshot): via Vattenfall/YouTube.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey