Scotland’s ports harbour opportunities for infrastructure investment

Scotland's ambitious 2030 renewable energy targets won't be possible without a key enabler: port infrastructure. 

First published in The Herald

3 May 2024

Cargo ship pulling into port

The April 2022 British Energy Security Strategy set an ambition to deploy up to 50 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity in the UK by 2030, with up to five gigawatts from floating wind. 

The market rose to the challenge with the 2022 ScotWind leasing round kick-starting the delivery of such ambition. Options were granted by Crown Estate Scotland to 20 offshore wind projects, with a combined 27.6GW of capacity. 

The market was bolstered further in March 2023 with 13 additional projects offered exclusivity agreements in the (INTOG) leasing round. 

At a time when we must boost the economy, this is a positive news story and a unique opportunity for Scotland to showcase to the world its expertise and capability in this sector. 

However, while there is a huge amount of commentary around the clean energy generation targets, it seems remarkable that port infrastructure, one of the biggest enablers to the delivery of these targets, isn’t being given a similar spotlight.  

There still appears to be a disconnect and put simply, we won’t meet the offshore wind targets if we don’t unlock and support the port infrastructure market. 

In Scotland, we have 11 major ports and a further 200 smaller ports and harbours located around the Scottish coastline. 

The offshore wind requirements for port infrastructure (in terms of construction, storage and operation and maintenance) are enormous and many of these ports have not had any investment since the oil and gas boom many decades ago. 

Our port infrastructure (with a few limited exceptions) isn’t fit for purpose and yet the investment opportunity is vast. 

While there are initiatives underway (the Strategic Investment Model and the Floating Offshore Wind Manufacturing Investment Scheme (FLOWMIS) being good examples) we need to view the port infrastructure market as a multi-billion pound market in its own right, with the potential to attract multiple market players both domestically and internationally. 

This is a sector which is capable of creating thousands of jobs, bolstering the economy as well as helping to deliver our offshore wind ambitions.

Like most things in history, we’ve been here before – a few decades ago we faced a similar conundrum in the UK around a lack of major infrastructure investment in areas such as transport, health and education.

There was an imperative to create investible structures to facilitate deployment and bring to bear the best expertise and investment from the private sector to work with the government to deliver major infrastructure across the country. 

Whilst a number of these structures have been critiqued (the outputs are not all glowing endorsements), the inarguable fact remains that we would not have a lot of the infrastructure we have today without such models. 

There is value in adapting such models as a potential solution to accelerate port infrastructure deployment, but the challenge is timing as we need immediate action. As we navigate the current uncertain political waters, we cannot wait for the next elections at Westminster and Holyrood to test political will for this solution.

In the meantime, what do we do about ports? 

There is an imperative on government and all those working in the sectors (finance, ports and energy) to ensure that Scotland is seen as the destination of choice for investment to help move the dial on port development. We have a great story to tell about a potential ports market which will endure for decades to come, and which will undoubtedly support our ambitions to reach net zero.

Visit our All-Energy hub to find out more.