Opinion article

Offshore wind: an ocean of opportunity for Australia

Offshore wind can play a significant role in the clean energy mix, combined with solar and onshore wind, to create a scalable renewable energy supply. Investment in offshore wind can also help accelerate the jobs transition and put Australia in the global race to create and export clean energy fuels and manufactured products, writes Damon Sunderland, Australasia Offshore Wind Leader, Arup.

Following the Australian Federal Government’s 43 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 and the systematic decommissioning of coal-fired power plants across the country with gas turbines to follow, Australia needs to transition with a reliable mix of renewable energy and dispatchable storage to keep the lights on. 

Offshore wind can play a significant role in the energy mix, combined with solar and onshore wind, to create a scalable renewable energy supply. Investment in offshore wind can also help accelerate the jobs transition and put Australia in the global race to create and export clean energy fuels and manufactured products. 

Across the globe, offshore wind projects in the United States, Europe and Asia are seeing the benefits of a solid investment in offshore wind. For Australia, offshore wind can be a powerful part of the energy mix to support our growth in the long term. By investing in offshore wind now, we can create economic opportunities and a stronger and more diversified energy supply.

Australia’s offshore wind opportunity 

Australia’s policy environment has shifted, with the Federal Government only last year releasing a national framework for licensing offshore wind projects in Australia. Developers and investors now have regulatory certainty that offshore wind projects can move forward. 

The Federal Government is reviewing feasibility licence applications for the first offshore wind projects to be built off Gippsland in Victoria. The aim in Gippsland is to reach two gigawatts of energy produced by offshore wind by 2030 – enough to power 1.5 million homes and create thousands of jobs in the process. With the government currently reviewing these applications, they will become Australia’s first offshore wind projects to be awarded feasibility licences.

Whilst not the only renewable energy solution, offshore wind can generate renewable energy to fulfil Australia’s energy needs and contribute to the generation of green hydrogen. Unlike onshore wind, offshore wind has the space for larger turbines and access to stronger, consistent winds. 

Offshore wind turbines are further away from the communities, minimising the physical and visual impacts of new energy infrastructure and providing more opportunities for existing onshore energy infrastructure to be repurposed into new community spaces. Offshore wind can also provide renewable energy at scale and close to where it’s needed, often to grid connections in and around industrial areas with high energy demands.

Capturing the opportunity in Western Australia

Until now, Victoria and New South Wales have dominated the discourse on Australia’s offshore wind growth; however, a significant opportunity for Western Australia also exists to make the next leap in the energy transition. 

Over the next 20 years, Western Australia has announced it needs to build more than 50 gigawatts of new energy capacity to support its energy transition and future industry growth. Supporting this is the Federal Government’s recent $3 billion investment in the electricity network infrastructure for Western Australia – providing future opportunities to expand the networks to areas suitable for offshore wind development.

As we transition to renewable energy, we will need more people with the skills to operate and maintain new infrastructure. Western Australia’s offshore oil and gas workforce has similar skills to those required for offshore wind and many workers can easily transition to this new industry. Ongoing operations and maintenance for a typical offshore wind farm requires 50 to 100 local employees.

Investing in offshore wind production also provides an opportunity for Western Australia to invest in renewable hydrogen – a potential future fuel – and other green manufactured products. Offshore wind can provide the scalable energy needed to produce green hydrogen and other goods from central hubs around the state.

Taking the next steps together 

Offshore wind is gaining momentum in Australia, and we are at a pivotal time. With any new industry opportunity, there will be challenges. Now is the time for government and industry to work together to consider measures such as regulatory and approvals streamlining and investments in research and development. By moving quickly, we can provide certainty for investment, allowing offshore wind to become an important part of the energy transition in Australia – for our people, the economy and our environment. 

To date, Arup in Australasia has supported over 35 offshore wind projects for developers, port authorities and state, federal and international governments wanting to invest in Australia. Globally, we have a track record of delivering offshore wind projects in Europe, Asia and the United States. 

We are dedicated to designing a sustainable future and believe investment in renewables is the path forward. Our team of consultants and experts across the globe are here to help governments, investors and developers take a bold step to include offshore wind into the renewable energy planning for the future. 

If you would like to learn more about Arup's work and our team, please reach out to us.

About the authors

Damon Sunderland

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Damon Sunderland has over 20 years of practical experience in offshore geoscience disciplines. He leads the Australasian Offshore wind business at Arup and has played a pivotal role in offshore wind projects worldwide, from the coastlines of Scotland to the shores of Japan. He currently leads offshore wind commissions in Australia for various developers, port authorities, and governments, working to shape the wind industry and its contribution to a more sustainable future. Damon has a longstanding involvement with the Society for Underwater Technology (SUT) and is the past-Chair SUT OSIG committee (Offshore Site Investigation and Geotechnics).

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