UK gives green light to bigger offshore wind farms

Posted: 10 December 2007

After years of uncertainty, the UK Government has announced plans for a massive extension of offshore wind farms around the British Isles. If the plans were carried through, offshore wind farms could provide enough energy to power every home in the country by 2020.

Speaking at a European energy industry conference in Berlin, the UK business secretary John Hutton, proposed the creation of up to 33 gigawatts of offshore wind energy. This represents a fourfold increase in the amount of space off Britain's coast already allocated for wind farms.

Scroby Sands Offshore Wind Farm
Scroby Sands Offshore Wind Farm
Scroby Sands Offshore Wind Farm, off the coast of Norfolk, was the first major offshore wind farm to receive Government approval and was commissioned in December 2004. It is made up of a total of 30 two-megawatt wind turbines. Photo © Renewable Energy UK
Hutton called on industry to invest in large- scale wind projects that would generate enough power for up to 25 million homes in the next 12 years. He acknowledges that this will change Britain's coasts, but said the need for energy self-sufficiency left no choice.

The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), the industry's leading professional body, welcomed the plan, but says a shortage of turbines will make it difficult to raise Britain's wind power production to 33 gigawatts by 2020 from the current level of half a gigawatt.

Meanwhile, Hutton said the full project still depends on environmental impact studies. "But if we could manage to achieve this, by 2020 enough electricity could be generated off our shores to power the equivalent of all of the UK's homes."

Some scepticism

Eight gigawatts' worth of wind generation projects are already planned, but the energy association said the limited supply of turbines meant the amount of wind energy produced by 2020 would probably be closer to 20 gigawatts.

Environmental campaigners and opposition MPs also welcomed the plan, but some noted that wind generated power is currently more expensive to generate than its coal-or gas-generated counterpart.

Greenpeace executive director, John Sauven, told The Guardian that the plans amountd to a 'wind energy revolution' but said premium prices had to be guaranteed for clean electricity. "Hutton is proposing notheing less than a green energy revolution but it won't becomne a reality on the back of a speech."

Friends of the Earth's renewable energy campaigner, Nick Rau, said: "We are delighted the Government is getting serious about the potential for offshore wind, which could generate 25 per cent of the UK's electricity by 2020. There is a lot more renewable energy out there - from big wave and tidal power projects to roof mounted solar PV panels. If we make the most of these abundant resources we could generate almost half of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

European super-grid

"The Government must now set out what support mechanisms it will put in place to deliver on its proposals and make the most of other renewables. It must also increase investment in the development of new renewable technology, including bigger and more efficient wind turbines."

"We should also be cooperating with our European neighbours to make the most of our shared resources. For example, by developing a European super-grid or large scale wind farms in the North Sea."

Both agencies are strongly opposed to threatened plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

There is scepticism, however, in many quarters, about the proposed scale of the plans, which the Renewablel Energy Association called 'quite unrealistic'. "Uncontrolled fluctuations in the output of 33 GW of wind would, if unconstrained, almost certainly place exceptional technical demands on the indispensable conventional generatiors", it said. A more realistic target would be 10 GW, it believes.

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