OK, here’s the easy bit of the answer. Vestas the Wind turbine manufacturers, (not the defunct range of freeze-dried curries) have a substantial turbine R and D facility on the Isle of Wight. Anyone with a shortish memory will recall that they had a blade manufacturing factory on the Island once, making small to medium sized blades, but this closed. Vestas didn’t exactly go away, however: they instead invested some £50 million in the now operational R and D centre. I went and had a good look at the centre last week – and its description as an R and D centre somewhat belies its actual status. True this is where Vestas are undertaking detailed research and development on the next generation of blades, but they also have, in effect a fully functioning single line production facility – except, of course it isn’t producing anything in terms of a production line. It is producing blades and moulds, however and is testing them: it probably qualifies therefore (and this is a bit startling) as the only place in the UK currently producing offshore turbine components: and they are very large indeed, and primarily looking at developing the next generation of large offshore 80m blade machines. Here’s some pictures of a very small me, to give you some idea of that size.
The problem – and the final connection – then is this. We are still claiming, as a Country to have a ‘world lead’ in offshore wind, which may be true in terms of deployment, but right now , as we go into the deployment of the round three wind off shore wind farm licences, we have virtually no indigenous supply chain to give value added in terms of UK jobs, skills and development to the process of deployment – and the optimism surrounding the establishment of such facilities (Siemens developing in Hull following the Ports infrastructure funding competition, for example) is slipping away as no-one actually comes and sets up the facilities in the UK that we will need.
In part, this is down to the upfront investment that is needed for new frontiers of technology: there will probably have to be a number of £50 million slugs of cash deployed to get each element of components for next generation offshore established in the UK – or otherwise, we could resolve supply issues for deployment by waiting in the queue for overseas manufactured components, probably at eventual greater cost.
And if of course we don’t do something soon about giving those sort of investors some degree of clarity about whether they will have any market for such components after 2020, then the likelihood is that they will – nowish – be taking decisions to put their £50 million slugs of investment elsewhere – not least because , with very large components such as those they are testing at Vestas, there is an advantage in building close to deployment.
So when we are next debating whether to provide 2030 renewable targets, or looking to evade commitments on offshore wind deployment post 2020, then we might think of Vestas on the Isle of Wight. This could be a substantial production line for 80m turbines ready to go onto the Dogger Bank and elsewhere. Or there might not be: Vestas certainly are not going to manufacture blades on the Isle of Wight to satisfy future Chinese offshore development. What there will be post 2020 is a very nice large shed available in a picturesque location: ideal perhaps as a heritage centre to display the products of a once promising UK wind turbine industry.