You’ve seen the Extinction Rebellion protests, Mr Attenborough has explained how much of a mess we’re in and Parliament has declared a Climate Emergency. So what do we do now? Where do we start reducing our Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions?
The World Bank shows the majority of CO2 emissions are from electricity and heat production so decarbonising this sector is a logical first step in decarbonising the economy. Fortunately we live on an island and we started the energy transition some time ago, so the surge in growth of onshore and offshore wind industry is helping to drive down carbon ratio of our energy supply. In 1990 the energy mainly came from coal, none of it from renewables. Fast forward to the 2018 and about a third of energy is produced by renewables.
Renewable energy supply is now roughly equivalent to the nuclear energy but but the estimated cost of buying energy from new offshore wind farms will be about half that of buying it from new nuclear plants. Current comparisons by the IPCC show that the CO2 emitted over the lifetime of an offshore wind farm or a nuclear power plant are comparable. But research shows that as turbine size increases (see header) the amount of CO2 payback time reduces. With wind turbines, bigger is better.
This is a good thing because the recent Offshore Wind Sector Deal estimates that the generating capacity will increase from 8GW now to 30GW in 2030. This is needed if we want to end the UK contribution to global warming by 2050 because the UK Climate Change Committee estimates this will require quadrupling low-carbon energy generation. Not a small undertaking, but can we really achieve it?
The technology to deliver low carbon energy from offshore wind turbines exists. The challenge that remains is in planning and building them. The first offshore wind farms were built in relatively shallow water because this was logical. But as these sites get filled up there is a need to move further offshore and in to deeper water. This increases the complexity of design, uncertainty of environmental data and cost of surveying the areas. All these elements have the potential to delay the construction of utility scale low carbon energy generation.
Fortunately, technology provides solutions and at Royal HaskoningDHV we are investing in these solutions building from our position as the leading supplier of EIAs in the low carbon energy sector. The real power comes from organising and analysing data effectively. Which is why we’ve invested heavily in data scientists, predictive simulation and we’re leading the charge for open data management. But the maritime engineering industry is not digitally mature yet, so to implement new technology and automate effective processes requires a focus on people. To engage people to adopt new ways of working you need to drop the jargon, collaborate across sectors and experiment to prototype solutions.