The Winds of Change for Net Zero

SEG’s Group Head of Sustainability Jane Goodland speaks to Sven Utermöhlen, RWE Renewables’ Offshore Wind Chief Executive Officer, to discuss the company’s roadmap towards net zero and the values of offshore wind.

The conversation highlights RWE’s ‘Growing Green’ strategy, which includes ambitious plans to triple offshore wind capacity by 2030, and also how it intends to become a net positive employer when it comes to biodiversity.

The Net Zero Conversations series was filmed at the Net Zero Delivery Summit, hosted by the City of London Corporation in association with the COP 26 UK Presidency 2022 and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ).

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Sven, welcome. And thank you for joiningus on Net Zero Conversations.Happy to be here. Thank you very much.So you're from RWE Renewables' Offshore Wind business.Tell us a little bit more about that.So we are the second largest operatorof offshore wind farms in the world.The majority of our business,for the time being is in Europe,because that's obviously where we started from.But we are expanding beyond Europe to the US,and also to Asia-Pacific markets suchas Japan, Korea, Taiwanand India. We haveabout 2.5 gigawatts ofoffshore wind capacity installed.But we want to more than triplethat to more than 8 gigawatts by 2030.The investment program that we have laidout last November aspart of the RWE Growing Green strategy foresees that,and we're on a very good way to achieving that.We are constructing two very large offshore wind farmsas we speak, we've just finished one here in the UK,the Triton Knoll offshore windfarm with partners from Japan.We are contructing the 1.4 gigawattproject Sofia here in the UK as well.We are constructing a wind farm in Germanyand have plenty of others thatare in various stages of development.But we are very well on path for that8 gigawatt target by 2030.Just to help people understand, how doesthe 8 gigawatt targetcompare to more traditional energy sources?8 gigawatt would probably roughly be what youhad in eight nuclear power plants.However, of course,the full load hours are a little bit lower.Typically for offshore wind in Europe,they range between 4.5to 5,000 full load hours.So it's very, very good.It's clearly the highest full load hoursof any renewable energy sourceif you compare it with onshore wind and NPV.And that is obviously one ofthe particular values of offshore wind.I mean, obviously in your business,your business is integrally linkedto transition to net zero.Can you talk to us a littlebit from a personal perspective?What's your journey been like on that net-zero?Absolutely, yes. It's interesting.You know, my background is geophysics.I studied geophysics and what you do if youdon't aspire to anacademic career which you could also do,you actually go into oil and gas exploration.And that's exactly what I did forthe first six years of my life,my professional life, I was in oil and gas exploration.I then went into strategy consulting, and in 2006,I went back into the power industryor energy industry and started working in renewables.And ever since I've been working in renewableswith an emphasis on offshore wind.And I have to say, thereare two areas around it which are absolutely fantastic.The first one is reallythat sense of doing the right thing,the sense of the right purpose.And I have kids,two twin boys of 13 years old and leavinga planet that is stilllivable in the way that we know it,and protecting the planet.That is definitely a purpose thatis worthwhile getting up for every,every single day and being passionate about.And the second wonderful thing about my work isthe passion of our teamand the degree to which they really love what they do.And I have to say,the best thing in my job isgoing out and visiting an offshore wind farm,which I regularly do.It gives me goosebumps every single time.It's such a fascinating thing.And I know it's difficultfor many people to do that becauseobviously they are relatively far awayfrom the shoreline, et cetera.But it's absolutely fascinating andthat combination of the passionate team that we have andthe people really doingthat for a purpose and doing that withreal, personal motivation andconviction, and the fascinating technology.It's an absolute blessing.And the technology presumably has evolvedquite a lot from the early farms.It absolutely has, the early offshore wind farmsthat we built, for examplein the UK, had individual wind turbines of about 2 megawatts.At the moment,what we are constructing is going to have 14 to 15 megawatts,and that is probably not the end.So it's a massive improvementor a massive evolution of the technology.And many, many other aspects that we have developed.We are at the moment developingsolutions for floating offshore wind.So when you actually don't have fixed foundations,which will unlock the potentialfor offshore wind in deeper waters.There is still a lot of innovation to be doneand a lot of technological development.So, in the past we've seen a certain amount ofopposition to offshore wind.Are you still seeing that now or is that kind of fallen away?It very much varies reallyfrom point-to-point depending onwhere the offshore wind farm project is.So in some places we still obviously havepeople who have concernsaround offshore wind farms in their vicinity.either because of visual impact,even though the majority are so far from the coast thatyou barely see it or don't see it at all.But of course, there are also other stakeholders, for examplefisheries, or sometimes thereare nature protection areas in the vicinity.So what we do is we engageas early as possible with those stakeholders.Engage in a really extensive dialogueand consult with all the stakeholders.And usually we reachvery good results with that and compromisesthat allow us to actually go ahead withthe project in really almost all cases.So usually it's really a matter of engaging indialogue and giving people the right facts.And usually then we find good solutions.And you've been involved inthis business now for some time have, and the debate aroundnet-zero is obviously becomingmore prominent and accelerating.Have you seen that in your business?Has that changed your business the waythat it's captured the global attention now?Yeah, it certainly has. I've been active in offshore wind,as I said, since 2006.And at the very beginning,it was a small niche.Then for some time it started to take off.But we still neededa lot of conversation in particular withpoliticians to really convince themthat offshore wind was going to be part ofthe part of the futureenergy supply and giving them the arguments as to why.And now, I would say probably over the last two years,broadly, that has really made the next step change.And now there is a very wide recognition insociety and politics that offshore windabsolutely should be part of the answer,has to be part of the answer for reaching net zero,reaching an energy transition thatreally fights climate change.And that is now really a situation where thereis almost more pull by societies and politics than,than anything else, which obviously is a great,a great place to be.And to what extent do you think thatCOP26, being the finance COP,has helped bring that sectorin more towards looking at kind of thethe investment into renewables.I think it certainly has helped to, let's say, increasethe awareness and increasethe understanding for our sector.That said, a lot of the big banks andfinancing institutes had already beenengaged in various offshore wind projects in Europe.And I think it has already prior to COP26,has been widely seen asan investable business casebecause it's really a mature business now,from a technical point of viewand from a risk point of view,I think it's widely seen like that,but nevertheless, certainly COP26helps to deepen that understanding further.And let's talk about the policy environment becauseany business needsthe right policy environment to succeed in.What's that like in the UK and acrossEurope and perhaps in other countries as well,from your, from your experience?Do we have the right policy environment?Could we be doing more to make it easier for renewables?Yeah, let me start with the positive side.The positive side, as I said,is there is a strong pull and a strong desireby governments across Europeand in many other countries around the world,now I can come back to that in a minute, to say, yes,we want offshore wind,we want more offshore wind and we want itfaster than ever before.So that's very positive.And there is also a general recognitionabout some of the things that need to happento get to those targets.We have seen increasing targets inalmost all European states thathave a meaningful coastline to say "yes, we want more offshore wind".So that's positive and there isa recognition of saying, "well,that needs to go together with a respective build-outof grid infrastructure orinvestments into a change in grid infrastructure."And of course also all the maritime special planningneeds to be up to the task,i.e., the areas for for all those megawatts need to be identified.And they also need to be developed by the member a way that these become really projectsthat can achieve a permit, a building permit,in foreseeable timeframes.So that general recognition is there.It is, however, also obviousthat in order to really reach thethe massive acceleration that we need,and let me maybe really put that in perspective again,We need to about 15 foldthe deployment of offshore windbetween where we stand today and 2050.So 15 times as much as we have built so far.How realistic is that? Can we do that?It is realistic.The areas are there of maritime space,and as I said,the technology is mature and it can be done.And companies are ready to invest like,like my own, to say "yes, we want to do this.We want to invest in this business,we'll continue to invest inthis business and we can do it."However, in order to unlock that,there are a couple of things that also froma regulatory and policy side need to be insured.And as I said, one is we also need,in line with that massive accelerationof building the generating asset,we also need a massive accelerationof reinforcing the grid infrastructure.That is an absolute requirement.The second thing is, it is requiredthat the permitting, and that goes both again for the wind farms,but also for the grid infrastructure thatthe permitting is accelerated. At the moment,these procedures are stilltaking many years depending inwhich country, you are talkingthree to seven or eight years ofpermitting, and that needs to be accelerated.And also the final but not least important pointis the auction regimes and market designs alsoneed to be such thatthe investments can really be, or are beingattracted and can really be made againsta background of a relatively uncertain at the moment,uncertain cost side whenit comes to some of the raw materials.Not the least steel,but also copper, aluminum, nickel.I mean, you can, you canquote almost any of these. At the moment,not only have the prices increased very recently,very significantly, but also the outlookhas become much more uncertain at the moment.And that puts a lot ofchallenges onto the supply chain byeither manufacturers of wind turbines andfoundations and, and substations.And it also makes their investmentsin increased capacities more challenging.And of course, we need to find mechanisms,market mechanisms and auction mechanisms thatallow players to make these investments.Even though the,the ingoing costs, let's say,are more uncertain at the moment.So we need mechanisms that allow us to say, "okay, I can,I see a perspective of matching my,my true cost with my returns."And there are some very good examples of that.For example, here in the UK,the CFD mechanism is such that it's indexed,linked to the inflation rate.And that is a very good mechanismthat should be adopted in more states.What we should minimize is negative bidding.So at the moment, in some states,companies like RWE need toactually pay money for the right to develop a project.And of course, ultimately all that does isit makes offshore wind more expensive.And that, at some point further down the roadwill find its way into prices of consumers of the power.And that's actually not what we need.So that should be minimized.And then one final question, if I may,really talking about the wider impacts of offshore wind,because obviously they arecreating a renewable energy source,but the manufacturing of them andthe production and the installation are notwithout their environmental impact.So can you talk a little bit about how RWE isminimizing or its partners are minimizing some of those.Yeah, absolutely. I mean, of course,as an industry, and I reallymean the whole supply chain of this industry,there is a clear path that we need togo to go to net zero through the entire supply chain.And as RWE, we haveour ESG targets and they cover all the three sectors.We definitely look into that and we will beplaying a major role in ensuring thatwhatever we procure, fromour suppliers is green,or is on a path to becoming green and becoming net zero.So there's no doubt about that.Let me say one additional thing though.Obviously what this industryalso does is it brings a lot ofreally high-quality andhighly skilled jobs and labour to our economy,that is a growing business,And in that sense, it's certainly also hasa very positive impact on the wider economy.And what we're also doing is we're investinga lot of money into ensuring thatnot only are we carbonneutral in the foreseeable time-frame,but that we also have biodiversity targets,to add one more example along the ESG scope,where we want to ensure thatour wind farms post-2030 or from 2030,or actually net positive on biodiversity.That's great to hear. Thank youvery much for your time. Thank you.

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