The country’s first wind farm was built onshore at Delabole, Cornwall in 1991 after a local family spearheaded a move to green energy in opposition to plans to build a nuclear power station in the area. However, the UK was a slow-mover in wind energy. It wasn’t until 2007 that wind energy overtook hydropower to become the UK’s largest renewable energy source, contributing to just 2.2% of the UK’s electricity supply.
Today it has a total installed wind tubines capacity of 5,204 MW (2010 figures) which accounts for 6% of the EU’s total wind power capacity – the sector is beginning to catch up with its European cousins. The UK’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan for 2020 envisages a target of 27,880 MW with a 12,990 MW slice of that in offshore wind energy.
Such a level of wind power would help to meet the national target of generating 15% of all energy from renewables by 2020, meaning that 35%-45% of electricity will come from renewables. RenewableUK – the wind and marine energy association – estimates that the wind power expansion that this will entail will deliver over £60 billion (€68 bn) of investment creating 160,000 green jobs.
With 12,429 km of coastline and shallow coastal waters, the prospects for offshore wind farm are considerable. In fact, in 2010 the UK led the offshore wind energy market accounting for 52% of all new offshore wind farm capacity in Europe, making it a world leader. 149 wind turbines were connected last year at three wind farms: Gunfl eet Sands in Essex, Robin Rigg in Scotland and Thanet in Kent – the world’s largest offshore wind farm.
In July the UK government published new proposals for offshore wind energy raising its offshore objective to 18 GW by 2020, up from 13 GW. National renewable energy association RenewableUK said that given the right conditions, future offshore costs could fall by 30%.
Also in July the government outlined new plans for the biggest overhaul of the country’s electricity market in 30 years. It will set a price for carbon, introduce feedin tariffs for all low carbon generation including nuclear and set an emissions performance standard meaning that no new coal power stations can be built without a system to capture and store CO2.
RenewableUK said the proposal “properly addressed most of the industry’s concerns.” However, the industry is worried that some aspects of the reform might impact the deployment of renewables. Gordon Edge from RenewableUK said, “there is still a huge amount of detail that has to be worked out… so the uncertainty the [proposal] has introduced is not yet over.”
Being Europe’s windiest nation, the UK’s wind power sector is growing, but the industry frequently faces local ‘NIMBY’ (not in my back yard) opposition often aided by the national press. Recently published figures reveal that last year 32 applications out of a total 66 for onshore wind farms were turned down for planning permission. While the current focus is on offshore, this should not turn attention away from the country’s significant onshore wind potential.
Zoë Casey, www.ewea.org/