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Offshore wind: meeting the challenge of net zero

How could the UK deploy sufficient offshore wind to meet the Government’s net zero target?

Achieving net zero carbon emissions is the environmental issue of our generation. If we fail, it is likely to have serious consequences for generations to come.

Offshore wind is a key component of the UK Government’s net zero strategy, with an ambitious target of achieving 50 GW installed capacity by 2030 and potentially more than 100 GW by 2050.

Rapid deployment at this scale poses many challenges. With each 1 GW array occupying a seabed area of around 150 km², large scale deployment inevitably creates competition for space with existing sea uses, particularly fishing and shipping. It also creates significant risks to our internationally important seabird populations from collision and displacement.

Future deployment of offshore wind therefore requires careful planning to ensure development is sustainable while also minimising costs to energy users.


Offshore wind and the marine environment

The recently published Future Offshore Wind Scenarios (FOWS) project report is intended to support the future development of offshore wind by illustrating the complex factors that must be balanced within the marine environment, including consideration of the cost of energy.

The report was commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), The Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland, and carried out by Arup with support from ORE Catapult and ABPmer. It provides the first illustrative framework for how the UK could deploy sufficient offshore wind to meet net zero.

The study used best available spatial data on Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) for fixed and floating offshore wind deployments, and spatial data for a wide range of human activities and environmental receptors within UK seas.

A range of alternative scenarios were modelled to explore how different assumptions on the trade-offs between cost of energy, other sea users and key environmental receptors might influence spatial deployment of offshore wind arrays.


Opportunities for UK offshore wind development

The project outputs do not provide a spatial plan for future offshore wind development. However, the scenarios do identify areas where there is significant opportunity for both further fixed and new floating offshore wind deployment which could help achieve net zero at reasonable cost, whilst avoiding major impacts to the fishing and shipping sectors, and which would have lower levels of cumulative impact to ecological receptors.

A key challenge for the relevant planning bodies will be developing the next steps for future strategic marine planning. Net zero will not be a single marine plan, but a series of plans that facilitate offshore wind expansion over time.

These plans should particularly seek to facilitate development in areas of significant potential, such as the Celtic Sea and off the North East coast of England and East Scotland to create a critical mass that attracts supply chain development.


Delivering an effective marine planning approach

Effective planning processes will be needed that enable trade-offs between offshore wind development, other sea users and the natural environment to be made in a participative, accountable and sustainable manner. The Scottish Sectoral Marine Plan for Offshore Wind provides a good example of how this process can work.

There remains a pressing need to resolve issues around compensatory measures, particularly for seabirds, but also habitats and marine mammals. It seems likely, for example, that future UK expansion will fail to meet Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive.

This requires leadership from Government, particularly in adopting fisheries management measures to improve key seabird prey species such as sandeel and clupeids. The current piecemeal approach to compensatory measures is not fit for purpose, and risks derailing net zero unless strategic solutions are implemented within the next five years.

The challenge of net zero provides a real opportunity for strategic marine spatial planning to prove its worth, and help ensure we do not fail future generations.  

To read the FOWS report, visit the Marine Data Exchange website.

Prepared by Steve Hull, ABPmer marine planning specialist

ABPmer assists the renewables sector throughout the project lifecycle; from site selection and feasibility, through environmental impact assessment and consenting to engineering design, construction and operation and maintenance.