The Crown Estate has collected and shared data to encourage international investment in UK offshore renewables, as Marine Data Co-ordinator at The Crown Estate Chelsea Bradbury explains.

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The British offshore wind sector meets around 5% of the country’s annual electricity demand, and is on track to hit 10% by 2020. The UK is leading the field in this area, with roughly the same number of offshore wind turbines in our waters as there are across the rest of Europe. Yet, less than 20 years ago this market was in its infancy, and as manager of the UK seabed, the Crown Estate had to understand how to unlock commercial value for the industry offshore.

Effectively the "seabed landlord", the Crown Estate has rights to award commercial leases for offshore renewable energy projects. We took a proactive approach to bring the industry together and encourage collaboration, helping to remove risks from the planning process and attract investment. In doing so, we helped to make the seabed a more productive asset, both for us as a business and for the UK economy.

Marine Data Exchange

As part of this approach, the Marine Data Exchange (MDE) was born, to provide a resource for offshore energy customers and prospective developers to store, manage and share data throughout the lifecycle of a project — from feasibility and consenting surveying through to construction and operation.

This resource, the first of its kind in the world, gives anyone with an interest in the marine environment free access to a pool of shared research, and by enabling collaboration, has helped to de-risk investment offshore. The MDE is now one of the world’s biggest sources of offshore renewable data. 60% of all survey work completed by The Crown Estate’s renewable energy customers is freely available via the platform, and includes research not only on offshore wind projects but wave and tidal schemes and marine aggregates as well.

More than 7,700 data sets were downloaded from the site last year by a growing number of consultants, developers and academics, as well as visitors from the government and NGOs.

Users have been logging in from countries including the USA, which launched its first operational offshore wind farm last year. Taiwan, one of the key target export markets for firms in the UK’s offshore wind supply chain, and the Netherlands, which is now home to one of the most mature markets in the sector.

A wealth of data

As the latest statistics from technology innovation and research centre the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult show, the average lifetime cost of energy agreed for projects that reached final investment decision stage last year was £97 per MWh, already below the industry’s target of £100, set for 2020.

There are now 1,463 wind turbines in operation in UK waters, taking up less than 1% of our total seabed, and contributing 5.1GW of capacity to the nation’s energy mix.

The wealth of data   consolidated in the MDE, has a continuing role to play in helping the industry on its path towards maturity; and for us as ‘landlord’, it helps to make best use of the prime real estate beneath UK waters.

This is an edited extract of an article that appeared in the June-July issue of the Land Journal.

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