U.K. Speeds Wind Energy Development

Blowing in the Wind: The U.K. Aims to Substantially Increase Wind Generated Electricity
Today in the U.K. wind only generates 649 MW

Editor’s Note: Wind power began to be viewed as a serious contender to provide competitively priced renewable energy over 20 years ago, when search for sources of energy to replace fossil fuels began to accellerate. Since these beginnings the Europeans, particularly the Danish and the Germans, have lead the way in developing wind energy. If the U.K. government has anything to say about this, however, that is all going to change.

In their favor, the British have the windiest country in Europe. They also have the seafaring tradition which may make them the first to build wind generating platforms in deep salt water, well beyond the 12 mile limit, where winds blow stronger and more consistently than closer to shore or on land.

In any case the British will have a long way to go before they can claim leadership in the race to use wind energy. Denmark generates over 20% of their energy from wind, in the U.K. this figure is only one-half of one percent. But wind power continues to fulfill its promise to deliver energy at prices at or below conventional energy sources.

The U.K. is particularly focused on offshore wind projects.

Such projects carry significantly higher risks than onshore ones. In addition, few offshore projects have been undertaken, and although countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark want to develop them, the U.K.’s proposals are the most ambitious.

The U.K.’s abundance of windy weather could deliver significant clean renewable power for the nation over the next decade. It would help put the country on track to meet the government’s target of 15% of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2015. Industry sources expect the U.K. to have the fourth-largest wind power capacity in the EU by 2010. These goals seem optimistic, however, given that total installed capacity was about 649 MW at the end of 2003, equivalent to only 0.5% of U.K. electricity. It is likely that an improved planning permission process would be required, along with a long-term, benign regulatory framework to deliver the government’s expected targets.

United Kingdom Wind Map
The U.K. is the windiest
country in the European Union

The year 2003 was the most successful to date for the U.K. wind industry, with 100 MW of additional installed capacity. This translates into a reduction of almost 256,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

The measures announced by the government by the end of 2003 are designed to boost further investors’ confidence in the U.K. wind sector. The measures are:

* Extension of the Registers of Scotland tenure to 2015 from 2010, and an increase in the actual renewable obligation to 15% from 10% of energy generated; and

* Extension of the limit for offshore construction to more than 12 nautical miles from the coast.

The Registers of Scotland (ROS) requires power suppliers to derive a specified proportion of the electricity they supply to their customers from renewable sources. This started at 3% in 2003, and rises gradually to 15% by 2015. The extension of the ROS to 2015 has provided greater certainty for investors. The average payback on a wind project generally extends beyond 10 years, and
so the ROS extension allows for project revenues to be generated over a longer period. This development is critical to reduce financiers’ concerns and attract investment as the sector enters a decisive stage of development. The ROS extension indicates the government’s general support, resulting from its pursuit of environmental targets.

Another positive development for the industry is the opportunity to build large wind farms further offshore than the previous 12-nautical-mile limit. This extension will enable projects to take advantage of better wind conditions further out to sea. This change is intended to encourage investors to build offshore farms.

Windmills Offshore
Wind energy is stronger and more consistent offshore

In Standard & Poor’s opinion, however, offshore wind power generation is still developing, and construction, technological, and operational risks are high. The turbine technology for wind farms a long way from shore is not sufficiently tested, and the distance from the coast and poor weather conditions could prevent necessary repairs. Maintenance costs could also increase if there were a failure in the connection between the wind farm and the main grid, and construction and repair costs are likely to be high. All these factors would have a direct negative impact on turbine availability. Furthermore, the long-term maintenance needs of turbines in deep saltwater have not been gauged. The entry of new and
inexperienced offshore developers into the U.K. offshore sector may further increase risks.

The December 2003 “Round 2″ announcement, which followed the measures discussed above, identified 15 offshore developments that will be offered leases by the Crown Estate. If built, they will provide 5.4 gigawatts (GW)-7.2 GW of new wind capacity. Such installed capacity would:

* Generate enough power to run 4 million homes, or one in six U.K. households; and

* Require about 7 billion pounds ($12 billion) worth of investment.

These projects are to be constructed in the Thames Estuary; Greater Wash; and the North West.

United Kingdom Flag

The “Round 2″ announcement clearly demonstrates the government’s acknowledgment of the offshore sector’s importance to the renewable energy target. The announcement, like the measures taken in November 2003, was targeted to inspire investor sentiment.

The upbeat investor climate in late 2003 has been overshadowed in the first quarter of 2004 by the release of the MoD’s 2003 objection statistics, and recently released reports on the costs of generating electricity.

The release in February 2004 of the MoD’s 2003 wind farm development objection rates–48% of the pre-application wind farm proposals submitted, or 413 out of 861 proposals–may dampen investor confidence. The MoD’s objections result from concerns about radar interference.

United Kingdom Map
Wind currently generates
1/2 of one-percent of
the U.K.’s electrical production

Radar is susceptible to distortion owing to high-level signals reflected from reflective large objects, such as windmills that exceed the limits of the radar design.

The high objection rate is not the only MoD-related concern for the sector. The ministry’s response times to proposals are becoming increasingly lengthy. This is not conducive to gathering construction and operational momentum in the sector. The MoD response time of about six months is far slower than the targeted three weeks.

The MoD and civil aviation stakeholders’ approach may restrict wind project build rates in both the onshore and offshore subsectors. If unresolved, the issue will inhibit investment in the sector as a whole. A technical solution should, however, be identified. This issue has been dealt with in mature European wind markets, and coordination between the government and the MoD will help alleviate the latter’s concerns.

Recent renewable energy studies estimates that, over the medium term, the cheapest electricity will come from gas-fired power plants and nuclear stations, rather than onshore or offshore wind farms. The report findings conflict with current onshore wind power costs of 3.1p per kilowatt-hour (kWh) produced for the British Wind Institute. This figure is lower than recent figures on new-build nuclear generation, produced for the Department of Trade and Industry, of 3.7p per kWh. The publication of such contradictory reports may erode investor and developer confidence in the sector with regard to the price competitiveness of future wind farms.

About the Author:
Gordon Feller is the CEO of Urban Age Institute (www.UrbanAge.org). During the past twenty years he has authored more than 500 magazine articles, journal articles or newspaper articles on the profound changes underway in politics, economics, and ecology – with a special emphasis on sustainable development. Gordon is the editor of Urban Age Magazine, a unique quarterly which serves as a global resource and which was founded in 1990. He can be reached at GordonFeller@UrbanAge.org and he is available for speaking to your organization about the issues raised in this and his other numerous articles published in EcoWorld.

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3 Responses to “U.K. Speeds Wind Energy Development”
  1. I think wind and solar power is the best thing, we should be investing far more into this energy source for the long term.

  2. Alexander says:

    The whole truth about wind turbines is never told by lobbyists and governments.
    How could the very weak and extremely unreliable initial energy source of a wind turbine ever produce a steady power of any significance ? Please think ! And read “Wind energy- the whole truth”

  3. Navaid Iftikhar says:

    As far as i know wind and solar power is the cheapest available source of energy or power as the operational cost is very less and its greener as well, we can save huge co2 emissions with this technology.


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