By Clare Mack, Chief Executive, Scottish Renewables

The ScotWind Leasing announcement is an exciting and significant milestone in Scotland’s renewable energy story. The first offshore wind leasing in Scottish waters for a decade is something our industry has been working towards for several years, and will enable the next generation of offshore wind farms to be developed.

To date, offshore wind in Scotland has lagged behind the rest of the UK, with 1.9GW operational and another 8.4GW in construction or advanced development. But the possibility of these 17 new lease offers will add greatly to our existing project pipeline, creating huge ambition for our sector to deliver on.

In many ways, while this is the start of a long road ahead, just getting to this point has required our members to dedicate huge resources to put forward the strongest possible proposals for new offshore wind projects. Engagement with Scottish supply chain companies and a wide range of marine stakeholders has been happening for some time, as well as government and industry collaboration on identifying key strategic investments that will create world-class facilities. This will continue to be vital if these projects are to progress to construction later in the decade.

It is hard to illustrate the scale of the opportunity by discussing gigawatts alone, but the numbers are remarkable. Just before Christmas, the Longannet power station chimney in Fife was finally demolished, with the First Minister and Scottish Power highlighting the symbolism of ‘making coal history’. For almost 50 years, Longannet generated around a quarter of Scotland’s electricity, with 2.4GW of capacity. In contrast, this offshore leasing round has the potential to deliver more than 24GW of clean renewable electricity, ten times as much as Longannet and more than double what is currently installed around the entire UK coast.

Scottish Power is one of the biggest winners of offshore sites from ScotWind, along with around 11 other consortiums and companies who will now begin to firm up their plans as they go through the regulatory permissions process in the coming years.

But while Scotland is the windiest country in Europe, with a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind resource, not everything blows our way. There are three big areas that will challenge the industry, and lots of work ahead to ensure that maximum environment and economic benefit is secured from this exciting development, a keystone of Scotland’s blue economy.

The first will be the task of ensuring that Scotland’s grid network has the capacity to deliver clean electricity where it is needed. With significant expansion expected in onshore wind as well, an unprecedented scale of upgrade will be crucial. Upgrading transmission infrastructure is a process just as lengthy and complex as developing an offshore wind farm, so there is no time to lose. On the flipside, projects like these are also huge industrial opportunities, delivering jobs and economic benefit for years to come.

Some of the winning projects may have plans to convert their electricity into green hydrogen, or supply local industry, but we should also be ambitious about the formation of a North Sea grid to trade clean energy with our European neighbours, as well as the cables needed to supply the rest of the UK. For the wind farms themselves, a huge programme of work is already under way to make offshore transmission cabling more strategic, with the potential for some projects to share cables to shore.

The second challenge will be for this huge expansion in the offshore built environment to be done in a way that supports the overall ambitions of the Scottish Government and stakeholders for our marine ecosystem. We know that across the globe there is both a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis, and we must ensure that offshore wind makes a positive contribution in response.

As an industry we now have a great deal of experience in delivering offshore wind projects that have the confidence of regulators and deliver huge amounts of clean electricity to decarbonise our society. The much larger size of turbines possible offshore, expected to reach 20MW within a few years, makes these sites a very efficient renewable resource. We also know very much more about potential impacts on birds, marine mammals and fish, and there are a plethora of industry research initiatives and projects exploring all aspects of the science. We will need to continue to work closely with all those with a stake in the blue economy as the offshore wind sector grows to be a major sustainable industry.

Collaboration is the third challenge facing the sector moving forward. It is essential that all these companies and projects, often forced to compete, collaborate to maximise the supply chain commitments that have been set out in their bids.

Despite the scale of the opportunity ahead, Scotland is still in competition with many other offshore wind markets demanding supply chain investment from those with the expertise. So, it’s imperative that we focus on Scotland’s strengths.

We now have the most seabed dedicated to commercial floating wind development of anywhere in the world. These 11 floating wind projects give Scotland a clear opportunity to create a major new sector to drive the blue economy, drawing on our deep-water expertise and making a just energy transition a reality in the North Sea.

The announcement in the autumn of a £110m tower manufacturing factory at Nigg was an extremely welcome boost to the sector, and now we are in an even stronger position to work with our excellent ports and suppliers to map out the needs of the sector stretching many years ahead. The work led by Sir Jim McDonald last year on strategic investment has set in train a framework for developers to work together in the interests of the Scottish economy, and the hard work to deliver this begins now. Continued close working between government and industry can deliver an exciting future for offshore wind in Scotland – and an exciting future for Scotland on the global stage.