Exciting opportunity

Richard Worthington gives advice on those looking to benefit from the UK’s wind energy potential

With work well underway to construct one of the world’s largest offshore wind farms – East Anglia One – the UK is rapidly gaining recognition as a world leader in the global wind energy market and the government is investing in its continued development. With planned funding in place, the time is right for innovators to capitalise on this clean energy opportunity.

The offshore wind sector in the UK has gone from strength to strength over the past decade. Its share of annual UK generation increased from 0.8 per cent in 2010 to 6.2 per cent in 2017 and is expected to reach 35 per cent by 2030. The sector is also expanding globally, with the cumulative installed capacity expected to reach 154 GW by 2030, based on a recent Bloomberg report. According to the Offshore Wind Industry Council, the UK represented 36 per cent of the global offshore wind market in 2017.

Government funding has certainly played a role in supporting the rapid development of the UK’s offshore wind industry, with the founding of the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult in 2013, which offers open-access testbed facilities for SME innovators at Blyth and Levenmouth in Scotland. Building on earlier investments, the government announced a new Sector Deal for the UK offshore wind industry earlier this year, with a commitment to invest a further £250 million and establish the Offshore Wind Growth Partnership.

Access to funding and support for innovators is only part of the picture. The UK’s established knowledge base in the oil and gas industry, specifically in relation to the siting and construction of floating foundations, which are capable of facilitating offshore wind projects in deeper waters, means domestic innovators are well placed to strengthen their global market share. Furthermore, home-grown expertise in areas such as robotics and AI is enhancing the viability of offshore wind energy through the development of technologies capable of performing subsea inspections, as well as some maintenance and repairs, without the use of divers.

For SME innovators, the government’s commitment to support a pipeline of UK offshore wind projects over the next decade has created an exciting opportunity. In some cases, suppliers already serving established industries such as oil and gas, subsea, automotive and aerospace, are finding that their solutions are applicable to offshore wind; potentially giving them an early-mover advantage.

Among the suppliers set to benefit in this way is Bristolbased SME, Rovco, which delivers cutting-edge subsea survey services using robotic 3D vision technology. With a background in the oil and gas sector, the company has developed technology for use in the offshore wind sector, with the support of ORE Catapult and Innovate UK. The technology is scalable and offers operators real-time visibility of underwater assets, such as floating or fixed foundations, so any issues can be identified and addressed as quickly as possible.

Another is Northumberland-based Osbit, which has developed a cable bend fatigue test rig capable of testing floating wind and tidal cables. Cable-related failures account for up to 80 per cent of offshore wind project insurance claims, so the ability to simultaneously test the electrical and mechanical performance of high-voltage cables, whilst they are fully submerged underwater, will support the development of electrical infrastructure for next generation offshore wind farms.

For new entrants to the offshore wind market, securing intellectual property protection for their inventions is vital. Without this, competitors in the UK, or other parts of the world, may seek to ‘reverse engineer’ their solutions, applying them to the offshore wind industry without any risk of retribution. The global nature of the offshore wind market can pose challenges for some SMEs, however. For example, where to draw the line geographically when seeking global patent protection. As many countries have a coastline suitable for offshore wind farm developments, it could be difficult to pinpoint the territories where patent protection would leverage most commercial benefit and filing in each one could be too expensive for a growing business. Even if patents were secured to protect all relevant customer markets, policing these IP rights would be extremely difficult in an offshore environment.

Acting on the advice of professional advisers, businesses should develop a bespoke strategy to protect their IP assets as they grow their market position. Instead of opting to protect their inventions in all potential customer markets at the outset, it may be possible to protect in the manufacturing location, based on capabilities in different parts of the world. The patent claims protecting new ‘method’ inventions may need to be drafted carefully to ensure all steps of the patented method occur in a single territory. A cost / benefit analysis and a detailed understanding of existing patented technologies are usually required to make such assessments.

Getting IP-ready to take advantage of the rapid expansion of the offshore wind market is critical. The Sector Deal’s goal to increase the value of UK offshore wind exports five-fold within ten years provides some indication of the scale of the opportunity that now exists for SMEs seeking to trade in this dynamic global marketplace. With the right IP strategy in place, innovators will be ready to leverage their commercial advantage to the full.

Withers & Rogers
Richard Worthington is partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers. Established in 1884, Withers & Rogers LLP is a leading European intellectual property (IP) firm providing expert advice on the protection and enforcement of IP rights particularly for inventions, designs and trademarks. Reflecting the firm’s distinctive entrepreneurial personality, its patent and trade mark attorneys come with a depth of specialist understanding and pride themselves on helping businesses to commercialise their IP.

For further information please visit: www.withersrogers.com