Vaughan Gething spoke about Wales becoming a global leader in renewable energy generation at Future Energy Wales

Highlights of Future Energy Wales Conference

We joined senior policy makers, technology and project developers, regulators, advisers, supply chain companies and others at the Renewables UK ‘Future Energy Wales’ conference in November. Delegates came from all over the UK and from overseas to discuss floating offshore wind, onshore wind, hydrogen and what Wales needs to do to succeed as a net zero nation. Dulas’s Andy Skipton Carter (Commercial Lead Consulting) and Rachel Kennedy (Principal Consultant) attended the conference – here are some of their highlights.

Unlocking the potential of onshore wind

Shortly before the conference, the Welsh Government announced that it will set up its own publicly owned renewable energy developer to harness the formidable power of renewable energy resources in Wales thereby delivering environmental and community benefits. The announcement was made on 25 October in response to energy insecurity. According to the Welsh Government, surplus funds generated through the new developer will go back into the public purse to be reinvested in improving energy efficiency in homes in Wales and creating good quality, home grown, clean energy jobs. The new state-owned energy developer will scale up renewable energy rollout, initially through the development of onshore wind projects on the Welsh Government woodland estate.

In his ministerial address at the conference, Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething spoke about the Welsh Government’s aim for Wales to become a global leader in renewable energy generation, benefiting the climate and the economy, and bringing quality, skilled jobs to the community.

Offshore wind has great potential, but onshore wind is the more immediate solution

Naturally, there was a lot of focus on the future development of floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea – a very promising prospect rightly receiving a lot of attention. Build time for the first 4GW is predicted to be 2030-2035, with a further 20GW of opportunity to follow. It was emphasised though that, more immediately, onshore wind can deliver more quickly and with more certainty, and should therefore have just as much focus as offshore wind. Onshore wind projects are still subject to significant and unnecessary delays and one of the reasons given was a lack of people in key government and local authority areas. Calls were made to urgently address this, with developers even offering to help fund posts to ease the process and get projects running to schedule. In relation to the Welsh Government becoming a renewable energy developer, the commercial developers emphasised that there must be a level playing field for all.

Unlocking the grid

The grid discussion saw the Welsh Government’s Jennifer Pride state that Local Area Energy Plans are to be produced by March 2024, with an energy grid report due in April 2023. National Grid ESO stated that they are looking to reform the grid connection process to ‘unpick’ the queue that the current process creates and to enable the best projects to be prioritised. Although everyone seems to be aware of the grid issues, it was generally acknowledged that progress remains too slow.

Hydrogen: a place for green and blue

Andy Skipton Carter sat on the hydrogen panel with other panellists from developers and trade associations. Earlier this year, Andy led a hydrogen feasibility study for Dulas with the help of a grant from the Welsh Government. The study involved assessing the technical and commercial feasibility of hydrogen production using two hydro-electric sites and a proposed wind farm as test cases. Andy has a keen interest in the role that hydrogen will play in Wales’s transition to net zero and enjoyed taking part in a broad discussion on the best uses for hydrogen, including the benefits of green vs blue. The general view was that both had their place in a net zero journey, with blue hydrogen potentially providing a route for quick decarbonisation of industry and green hydrogen potentially dominating further down the line once technology and infrastructure has enabled economies of scale.

Community at the heart of renewable energy

It was heartening to see lots of discussion and emphasis on community engagement and community energy. Traditionally there has been a lot of strong feeling about pylon infrastructure in rural Wales and making sure that Wales gets its fair share of the action and that the benefits of renewable energy are captured for the local economy would be a helpful step towards mutual agreement. The challenge for community energy will be to have many more projects in order to make a significant contribution, and to establish stronger links with big developers and, in future, Welsh Government led projects.

‘As expected, a thoroughly enjoyable conference with enthusiastic discussion and lots to be positive about – it was great to get together with a bunch of like-minded people, all with a common aim – how to implement renewable solutions to combat climate change and support local energy security while maximising the benefits for Wales. A number of delegates commented that the ‘buzz’ had returned to the event after being absent for some time.

Andy Skipton-Carter commented: