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F1 Boss Eyes ‘Pole Position’ For UK In Offshore Wind Industry Supply Chain Review

Former McLaren CEO and F1 team principal Martin Whitmarsh is to lead a full review of the supply chain for the UK’s burgeoning offshore wind industry, as part of a plan to drive £2.6bn in annual exports from the sector by 2030, it was announced today.

Martin Whitmarsh (r) launched the review on a visit to FT Technologies' facility in Surrey

Martin Whitmarsh (r) launched the review on a visit to FT Technologies’ facility in Surrey

The Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC), a forum of experts from across government and industry, is launching the review as part of its 2030 vision to boost exports five-fold and secure a further £48bn of infrastructure investment in the domestic sector over the next decade.

The review will look at finding new opportunities across the supply chain for businesses and innovation, with an eye on further reducing offshore wind development costs that could potentially have a knock-on impacts on consumer bills, OWIC said.

Heading up the review, Whitmarsh will work with companies throughout the value chain over the coming months in a bid to encourage existing suppliers to increase their capabilities in the sector. A Supply Chain Development Plan for the industry will then be published once the review concludes in the autumn.

Speaking to BusinessGreen, Whitmarsh said he wanted the UK “to be in pole position” in an increasingly competitive global market for offshore wind, adding that at present worldwide demand far outstripped the capacity and capability of the sector’s supply chain.

“Although we’ve got a supply chain in place, when you look at the growth potential the supply chain we’ve got is not adequate to meet that demand, both from the UK and the rest of the world,” he said. “The pioneers have been out and taken the risk, established something, proven that it is cost-effective, reliable and achievable. Here, it is credible now to realise that offshore wind energy is going to grow in multiples over the coming years. It is our role to ensure the supply chain responds in the UK and is leading the world in deployment of this technology.”

Increasing supply chain productivity, Whitmarsh said, would directly lead to lower costs and enable UK companies large and small to seize new opportunities across the globe.

“What the UK is often good at is innovation and start-ups, but we often don’t dominate the world in enough industrial sectors that we should do, we let others come in, take a longer term perspective, then grow and exploit it,” he added. “We are good at the bleeding edge technology, but we aren’t often good at the leading edge technology. This is an opportunity for UK plc.”

In charge of McLaren’s F1 racing team from 2009-2013, Whitmarsh went on to head up Olympian Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup sailing team, and he now sits on the global advisory board for the Formula E all-electric racing series.

Whitmarsh – who was appointed for his work on improving supply chain productivity in the automotive industry – admitted he was a bit of an “ignoramus” on the specifics of the offshore wind sector. However, he said he looked forward to learning much more throughout the review process, and would use his experience and expertise in order to take a “fresh look” at the sector.

The OWIC believes over half of the revenue from UK offshore wind suppliers could come from exports by 2030, but Whitmarsh said he didn’t want the review process to get “too bogged down” in looking at the potential ramifications of Brexit on trade. “Fundamentally, if you as a business can develop cost-effective technologies that are competitive and perform in the worldwide marketplace, then you’ve got to assume that in whatever system you operate, you can go out and sell those things,” he said. “I’m not a Brexit expert or a fan, but nonetheless, I don’t think we should get too bogged down in that.”

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to produce a clear plan, with tangible recommendations to achieve the ambitious targets the OWIC has set for the industry,” he added.

He will lead a team of industry experts including the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult’s innovation manager Claire Canning, MHI Vestas quality inspector Kasper Sørensen, innogy project engineer Thomas Ellson, and Victoria Sinclair, supply chain strategy manager at ScottishPower Renewables.

OWIC member Clark MacFarlane, managing director at Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, welcomed Whitmarsh’s appointment to lead the review. “We’re at the stage now where we can see offshore wind growing so rapidly, that it’s a slightly fresh pair of eyes that Martin brings,” he told BusinessGreen. “We’ve moved on a little bit as an industry, but what does that mean for the supply chain?”

The review, which is to be officially launched at FT Technology’s facility in Surrey later today, runs alongside ongoing discussions between OWIC and the government over agreeing a ‘sector deal’ for offshore wind as part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy. MacFarlane said the industry had submitted a prospectus of recommendations to the government to help develop the sector deal.

“We have a number of asks [for the government] in the prospectus, some of those are support – not new money, but support for innovation and we will put our own resources into that as well – and we have also asked for regular auctions at least every 18 months, because one of the primary asks is that we can give market visibility to everyone within the industry,” he explained.

The UK is already a world leader in offshore wind, with more than 13GW of capacity either deployed or contracted at present. However, with development costs plummeting rapidly and economic powers such as the US and China beginning to up the ante, the UK – which continues to face a trade deficit and sluggish productivity – must rapidly enhance its supply chain capacity if it is to seize the export opportunities associated with an increasingly competitive renewables marketplace.