INTERVIEW-UK offshore wind ambition creating new industry
* New offshore wind industry emerging
* Offshore wind has little in common with onshore
* Investment eyed for 2015-2020
* Large qualified workforce needed
By Nao Nakanishi
LONDON, July 6 (Reuters) - Britain's ambition to set up huge offshore wind farms is helping give birth to a new industry, despite the financial crisis that has slowed down development of onshore projects, Germany's REpower System AG RPWG.DE said.
Matthias Schubert, Chief Technical Officer (CTO) and board member, told Reuters the financial crisis had not really hit the nascent sector as deep-pocketed investors were pushing ahead offshore projects, encouraged by government support.
"Offshore wind is a completely new industry," Schubert said late last week. "The industry is being created...The Round 3 (UK offshore programme) is driving it forward."
Britain has opened a third round of bids for leasing its seabeds for wind farms.
REpower is one of the world's few turbine makers with a track record for offshore farms, competing with Germany's Siemens AG (SIEGn.DE) and Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems (VWS.CO).
While total global wind capacity rose by nearly 30 percent to more than 120 gigawatts (GW) last year, only about 1 GW comes from offshore wind farms at present.
But things are about to change, with European countries, including Germany, planning to erect thousands of turbines in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to meet the EU's target to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020 from the 1990 level.
Britain alone plans 25 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind farms by 2020 under the Round 3 programme, adding to about 8 GW of capacity being built or planned under Rounds 1 and 2. The UK government is pinning hopes on offshore wind farms to set up a domestic supply chain after failing to do so in the development of onshore wind farms, when it trailed behind other countries, such as Germany and Spain.
Schubert said it had become necessary to build a new industry from a complex supply chain to make infrastructure such as grid connections and ports facilities, as offshore wind had little in common with onshore, although it used wind turbines.
Marine wind power presents a different range of challenges to onshore, with functions from construction to maintenance all made more difficult because of the hostile conditions at sea.
Last month, Siemens said it was in talks with some UK harbours for possible investment as it needed a plant to pre-assemble large offshore turbines.
Shubert said it was still too early to make investment decisions as turbines for Round 3 would not become necessary until 2015-2020. REpower had just opened two factories in Bremerhaven, Germany, for blades and nacelles.
Still, REpower is in talks with those bidding for UK Round 3 offshore wind projects, for which seabed leasing contracts are to be handed out later this year.
"We have signed customer support letter with some bidders for Round 3," he said.
REpower has its first two 5 megawatt (MW) demonstration offshore turbines running in Scotland. Local companies manufactured large parts of them, apart from the nacelles and blades, partly because of the heavy weights involved.
"As far as the first step is concerned, Britain was quicker than Germany. It's not a coincidence that our first machines are in Scotland," Schubert said.
But REpower picked Bremerhaven for its latest plants because Germany also had a plan for 20 GW of offshore farms and Bremerhaven provided wide-ranging support, including port infrastructure and workforce training.
"To make 25 GW a reality, you don't just need the Round 3 bid...You need matching infrastructure. You also need a corresponding power grid," he said.
"You would also need a large pool of qualified workers to set up 25 GW and to operate them eventually...You often forget it is not just putting the machines together that creates jobs. You need a large team to service the machines."
(Editing by Keiron Henderson)
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