Catapult connects UK to Chinese offshore wind

Materials World magazine
1 Jan 2018

The US$100bln Chinese offshore wind market is the target for a new programme between the UK and China. Khai Trung Le reports.

A research programme aims to connect UK companies with the promising Chinese offshore wind market, enticed by plans from the Chinese Government to invest US$100bln in wind projects by 2020, in the hopes of accelerating the development of the sector and solidifying UK involvement.

The programme, the International Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Research Platform, was launched by the ORE Catapult and is funded by Innovate UK. James Battensby, Technical Bid Manager at the ORE Catapult, told Materials World, ‘China has significant expansion plans in the offshore wind sector, with 1.6GW of operational offshore wind (globally the third largest capacity currently) and aspirations to deploy 5GW by 2020. The Chinese market will become a leading global player in offshore wind investments.’

The platform has connected UK companies to technical solutions for the newly proposed 200MW+ Shandong offshore wind farm, with hopes to source funding to demonstrate UK technology in the expanding South China Sea offshore market. Beyond Shandong, Battensby hopes that successful demonstration of UK applied technologies will mean further engagement with the Jiangsu and Fujian Provinces, and the platform has held preliminary talks with China Guodian, China Three Gorges and China Huaneng Group, among the largest state-owned offshore wind companies in the country.

Reaching industry level

Since China became the world’s largest wind power developer in 2010, the potential of the Chinese offshore market has been widely acknowledged. Its overtook the USA in the Ernst and Young (EY) renewable energy country attractiveness index, reaching the top spot in May 2017, with EY celebrating offshore wind potential.

While UK academia has previously worked with Chinese companies, projects have been focused on university-level research at lower technology readiness levels, typically one to three, according to Battensby. He added, ‘While this type of research is extremely valuable, when making the transition from this theoretical or small-scale laboratory research to applied industry-level research, more industrial research and experimental development is required at a prototype development stage. Full-scale, real life validation is needed to bring new products and services to market.’

China has already begun collaborating with Denmark on a future wind farm, following meetings between Denmark’s Energy Minister Lars Christian Lilleholt and the head of the Chinese National Energy Administration, Nur Bekri. The location and size of the wind farm has yet to be confirmed, and Battensby does not see the collaboration impacting opportunities for UK companies. He said, ‘Denmark has a strong track record in turbine manufacture. However, this is only one element of the whole offshore wind supply chain. UK companies are some of the most innovative in the world in terms of developing novel solutions for industrial problems. They have a significant track record of expertise in offshore engineering, engineering systems modelling and subsea technology development.’

In Feburary 2017, the British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai, the Department of International Trade and RenewableUK established the Offshore Wind Hub, similarly created in the hopes of supporting business opportunities in China for UK companies.

Western waters

Although the research platform is currently focused on the Chinese market, it is also reviewing opportunities in the USA, which has signalled potential offshore wind farms off the east coast of Massachusetts. ‘The USA market is currently at an early stage of development, having only a 30MW demonstrator,’ said Battensby. ‘However, a number of offshore wind zones are currently being leased and bid for on the US eastern seaboard around Massachusetts, New York and Maryland – around 15GW in total.’

The ORE Catapult will participate in an international partnering forum in New Jersey, USA, in 2018.