The renewable energy industry today welcomed British prime minister Boris Johnson’s commitment to quadruple the U.K.’s offshore wind capacity in the event of a general election win. But others warned that such promises could ring hollow in the event of the U.K. leaving the EU with no deal, pointing to the critical importance of expertise and equipment from mainland Europe.
In a speech yesterday, Johnson committed to pushing for a “clean energy revolution” and the U.K.’s offshore wind capacity from the current 8.5 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts by 2030. In a response, Benj Sykes, co-chair of the Offshore Wind Industry Council and U.K. manager for Danish renewables giant Ørsted, said:
“We welcome this commitment to expand offshore wind in the U.K., as it will boost our ability to reach net-zero emissions at low cost using a technology which can deliver at scale.”
“Offshore wind is now cheaper than gas, nuclear and coal and creates tens of thousands of jobs. As the world leader in offshore wind, this is a technology that the U.K. is right to be proud of. We look forward to working with whichever party forms the next government to implement the actions we need to deliver an increased target for offshore wind.”
But separately, industry experts warned Forbes.com that the no-deal Brexit favored by some Conservative members of parliament could spell disaster for Britain’s booming renewables industry.
Matthew Hannon, senior lecturer and director of research at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship at Strathclyde Business School, said: “We have a supply chain at the moment for offshore wind projects that is heavily reliant on companies in the E.U., and on the frictionless trade we enjoy with the area.”
Citing research from his team’s recent report on the floating wind sector, Hannon said the supply chain for two of the U.K.’s largest floating offshore wind projects, Hywind Scotland and Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm, show that the experience and equipment being used “is typically the preserve of non-U.K. companies, and specifically European companies.”
“If you sever the umbilical cord with the European Union, it’s going to create serious complications with how we’re able to source that equipment and expertise,” he added.
“Worst case scenario: we slip into WTO rules and we’re subject to significant tariffs on these products, and we’re looking at very severe delays if U.K. companies are looking to hire the brightest and best people on the continent,” Hannon said. “My view is it will really hurt the sector.”
Referring to the British government’s current impasse on Europe, Kresten Ørnbjerg, global head of public affairs for Vestas, the world’s largest producer of wind turbines, told Forbes.com: “As with any industry right now, the uncertainty Brexit brings doesn’t help. We hope customs and freedom of movement are dealt with and agreed upon, so that experts and material can travel in and out of the U.K.”