Spain has the opportunity to lead floating offshore wind energy

Approximately two years ago at the Asociación Empresarial Eólica (AEE) we set up the Offshore Wind Working Group, promoted by a small group of companies interested in analyzing the opportunities that were opening up in the Spanish market for wind turbines, since some technologies Floaters were beginning to reach levels of commercial development. Floating offshore wind was no longer a technological niche, and now allowed the installation of commercial parks in deep-water locations, precisely those that best fit the characteristics of the Spanish coastline. The high depths of our seas, due to the absence of a continental shelf, finally ceased to be an obstacle to taking advantage of the great wind resource potential offered by our more than 6,000 km of coastline.

At that time, the international framework was already clearly favorable for offshore wind, as a key technology in meeting decarbonisation objectives. The European Commission had established among its strategic objectives the will to become a world technology leader in floating offshore wind, through the European Strategic Plan for Energy Technologies or SET-Plan. These strategic objectives were subsequently reinforced by the great European Green Deal or Grean Deal, approved by the European Union in December 2019.

The launch of the Offshore Wind Working Group also coincided with the development of the National Energy and Climate Plans (PNIEC), which all member countries had to present to the European Union. In AEE we observed with disappointment how in the first drafts, Spain gave offshore wind power a merely testimonial character. Contrary to what many European countries did with much lower wind conditions, Spain did not include offshore wind among its objectives for 2030, while other renewable technologies with higher costs, if they were expressly included.

In this context, the Working Group began its journey by carrying out an analysis of the situation and proposing a series of measures necessary for the development of offshore wind [1]. The diagnosis was optimistic, and came to ratify what had been evident from the sector for more than a decade: Our country has a privileged ecosystem for the development of offshore wind, thanks to a series of factors that are difficult to replicate in other countries. For example:

The great potential of wind resource available. Floating wind power is technically feasible in much of the Spanish coastline, greatly expanding the number of available sites. In addition, it is already economically efficient in certain geographical areas such as the Canary Islands, whose electricity generation costs are considerably higher.
The important capacities of the Spanish industry, both in the wind and naval sectors, which allow the entire supply chain to be covered, and which for several years have been exporting components for European offshore wind farms.
The technological capabilities of the Spanish R&D sector, in offshore wind in general and in floating in particular, by having several test platforms in our territory, as well as multiple experimental prototypes under development by Spanish companies. Spain offers infrastructures of international reference for the technological development of floating wind, grouped in the program of Singular Technical Infrastructures (ICTS), MARHIS (Maritime Aggregated Research Hydraulic Infraestructures).

Although the definitive text of the PNIEC did not introduce specific objectives for offshore wind, it did incorporate some positive changes that valued the current capabilities of this technology, and allowed us to have certain hopes about its future development. For example, the PNIEC qualifies the potential in Spain of floating offshore wind power as high: “… the reduction of its generation costs in real and planned installations in the short term in Europe, already shows a high potential in Spain with floating technology in the 2030 horizon ”. The need to approve a specific strategy for the development of offshore wind power in the short term was also identified.

Since then, both the wind sector and other entities have continued to deepen the aspects necessary to develop offshore wind in Spain, with the aim of moving towards an adequate regulatory framework. For example, benchmarking of international development models, support instruments, analysis of technical requirements, etc. At the same time, the European Union has ratified its firm commitment to developing offshore wind in Europe, through the Recovery Funds and the recently approved European Marine Energy Strategy. More concretely:

The Sectorial Agenda of the Wind Industry, signed in September 2019 by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, identifies offshore wind as one of the main levers to strengthen the Spanish wind industry. This document, which is part of the Industrial Policy Strategy of Spain 2030, already proposed a series of lines of action necessary for the development of the offshore wind industry in our country.
The European association WindEurope, in its report published in November 2020 “Our energy, our future. How offshore wind will help Europe go carbon-neutral ”, estimates that by 2050 70 GW of offshore wind will have been installed in the waters of southern Europe, of which 13 GW would correspond to Spain
The Technological Platform for the wind sector REOLTEC, in its report "Boosting Innovation in Offshore Wind", proposed different measures to support demonstration projects and experimental activities in offshore wind.
In May 2020, different agents of the sector, including PREPA, contributed their proposals within the framework of the prior consultation convened by the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, for the preparation of the roadmap for the development of offshore wind and the energies of the sea in Spain.
In 2020, Kic-Innoenergy, an entity supported by the EU, published its report "The Iberian region as a hub for technology development and industrial leadership in the field of floating offshore Wind", which analyzes the important Spanish capacities to become a hub technological and industrial in floating offshore wind.
The Recovery Plan «Next Generation EU», recently approved by the European Commission to reactivate economies and curb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizes offshore wind power due to its capacity to generate employment, economic tractor and industrial implantation .
Finally, the European Marine Renewable Energy Strategy, approved by the European Commission in November 2020, ratifies the commitment of the European Union to promote offshore technologies, as part of the scenario to achieve climate neutrality in 2050, converting to wind power marine in a fundamental pillar of the energy mix. Specifically, the European Union sets targets for offshore wind of more than 60 GW in 2030 and 300 GW in 2050.

At the same time, at AEE we have been observing how the number of interested companies has grown exponentially. Most of the large companies in the energy sector, both national and international, have made a strong move into offshore wind power and are studying projects in different locations on the Spanish coast, waiting for regulation to allow their development. The industrial fabric of small and medium-sized companies is also positioning itself around different industrial clusters at a regional level, to participate in the demanding supply chain that large commercial offshore wind projects drive.

However, despite the initiatives presented so far, we observe that in Spain we continue with the same pending issues:

The current framework established in RD 1028/2007 continues to be out of date and prevents the development of offshore wind farms of more than 50MW.
The advances made recently in access and connection regulations, although generally positive and necessary, leave offshore wind projects in a very compromised situation due to the difficulty of complying with the 5-year term established in RDL 23 / 2020 for the expiration of access and connection permissions. The 7-year term extension provided in RDL 23/2020 for certain technologies, such as pumping hydraulics, has not been applied to offshore wind. International experience shows that in most cases 5 years are insufficient for the start-up of offshore wind farm projects.
The access and connection procedure for marine facilities established in RD 1028/2020 is still not harmonized with the general access and connection regulation. This gives rise to contradictory interpretations between the Administration and the System Operator. In addition, it causes a situation of defenselessness for the promoters of offshore wind farms, who will lose the access capacity available in the system, in favor of the rest of renewable technologies that do have a clear procedure for submitting applications.
As indicated by the EU, the deadline for approval of the Marine Spatial Planning Plans ends on March 31, 2021. However, today, there is still no zoning proposal available to identify viable sites for the installation of floating offshore wind farms. The Ministry announced delays in its approval, at least until September 2021.
    The Strategy for the Development of Offshore Wind mentioned in the PNIEC remains unspecified, despite the fact that at this time a multitude of strategies and roadmaps related to other energy sectors have been submitted to public consultation, and even approved. Technologies and fields as diverse as storage, renewable hydrogen, self-consumption, just transition, energy efficiency or long-term decarbonisation, have strategies that provide objectives and visibility to the agents involved.

It is therefore a question of priorities, in which some mistakes of the past seem to be repeated. It should be remembered that more than a decade ago 7,300 MW were presented in fixed foundation offshore wind projects according to the procedure of RD 1028/2007, which the Administration was not able to process.

In Spain we are losing unique opportunities and giving away the privileged position of leadership that we could hold almost naturally, in a priority sector for Europe and that provides an important capacity to generate industrial fabric, economic activity and qualified employment. Meanwhile, other neighboring countries with less potential, such as Portugal, France, Italy or Greece, are overtaking us by making firm and unapologetic bets on offshore wind, adapting their regulatory framework, calling auctions, supporting demonstration projects, developing their industrial value chain, building test benches and experimentation infrastructures. We are no longer talking about countries such as the United Kingdom or Germany, where fixed foundation offshore wind power had a strong presence, nor about other international markets such as Japan, Korea, the United States or New Zealand, in which the levels of support for wind power marine move on other scales.

To advance in the development of floating offshore wind it is necessary to urgently approve the Strategy for Offshore Wind and Energies from the Sea, with specific objectives similar to those included in other Strategies / Roadmaps led by the Government. In this way, a vision will be given of the level of ambition as a country, which is so important in attracting investment.

The opportunity offered by the European Reconstruction Funds, channeled through the Plan for Reconstruction, Transformation and Resilience, should also be used to finance offshore wind tractor projects, and extract part of their cost outside of the costs of the electrical system.

In Spain we still have the opportunity to capitalize on the advantages of being a 'first mover' in the floating offshore wind energy sector with wind turbines, to maximize the local economic benefits of a nascent supply chain in this industry. However, without a clear and ambitious Strategy, with concrete actions in the short term and a well-defined remuneration framework, this opportunity will be diluted in favor of other European countries that are already developing the market and have specific support instruments.

[1] AEE Publication Key elements and proposals for the development of offshore wind in Spain. An energy, industrial and innovation opportunity

Article by Tomás Romagosa, technical director of AEE