Professor John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Centre, was a guest contributor to a 16 page special report recently published in the Times, which considers the potential for offshore wind to become a key source of future renewable energy.

The supplement, which was distributed at the Crown Estates Offshore Wind Conference for England on 31st May and at the Global Offshore Wind Conference 2012 on 13th and 14th June, aims to educate and encourage dialogue to all relevant stakeholders by targeting the influential groups that will help shape its future, and featuring objective analysis by leading industry journalist, global opinion leaders and sector experts of offshore wind’s critical contribution to the future energy mix and the investment opportunities it offers.

Professor Loughhead explained that offshore wind has vast potential, with estimates that 100GW average power – more than twice the UK’s current typical electricity demand – could be generated from less than one third of UK waters shallower than 50m. Offshore installations also have less of an impact on communities, and capacity factors which approach 40% rather than the 25% typical of onshore systems.

However, the cost of offshore wind turbines is also proving higher than expected, approaching £3,000 per kilowatt of capacity, meaning each unit of electricity produced costs about twice that from a conventional power station. Engineering rotating machines for the marine environment is also difficult and costly, with UKERC’s analysis suggesting that costs are only likely to reduce by about 20% over the next ten years.

“There are challenges to overcome with the variability of wind power which requires back-up or other power balancing systems”, explained Loughhead. “Offshore wind is not in the same place as our old coal fired power stations, so we need a substantial reinforcement of the national grid to move the power to where it’s needed.”