The first study to put a financial value on the UK's offshore renewableenergy resource has concluded that the nascent sector could transform the country from a net energy importer to a net energy exporter by 2050.
The report, which was commissioned by a coalition of government and industry organisations known as the Offshore Valuation Group, argues that the creation of a North Sea supergrid would allow the UK to export energy generated by offshore wind farms and marine energy systems to the rest of Northern Europe.
The study sets out three scenarios for the next 40 years, with the most ambitious course of action resulting in an average of 13.1GW of wind, wave or tidal energy being installed each year up to 2050.
It argues that such a rapid build out of renewable energy capacity would create profit of £24bn for the UK supply chain and create direct employment for about 340,000 people. It also predicts that the resulting wind and marine energy farms would produce energy equivalent to 2.6 billion barrels of oil a year by 2050 – more than double the output from North Sea oil fields during the peak year of production.
"While ambitious, this scenario is not without precedent; between 1994 and 2004 the UK was a net producer of fossil fuel energy," says the study, entitled The Offshore Valuation.
In another highly ambitious move, the report argues offshore renewables could generate electricity equivalent to one billion barrels of oil annually by 2050 through the installation of 169GW of capacity. That scenario would create 145,000 new jobs in the UK and provide the Treasury with £28bn in tax revenue annually, according to the report.
The scenarios set out in the report are hugely ambitious given that current plans for a new generation of offshore wind farms represent the largest build out of offshore wind farms anywhere in the world, but would still only add about 30GW of new capacity by 2020.
However, the report's authors said the study highlights the huge potential for the UK's offshore wind industry if a North Sea super grid is developed, adding that the new government should move to ensure that the next wave of offshore wind farms is compatible with a European supergrid.
"This study is not designed as a predictor of the future. Our vision, while exciting, is not the only way forward," said Offshore Valuation Group chairman Tim Helweg-Larsen. "We have set out to describe the potential value of the UK's offshore renewable resource without trying to predict the future, nor to propose prescriptive recommendations."