UK looks to lead in offshore wind power

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The UK has announced plans to build an unprecedented 33 gigawatts of offshore wind power capacity by 2020, surpassing Denmark in sea-based wind power output. But sceptics questioned whether the turbines will ever be built.

The plan, announced on 10 December in Berlin by UK industry secretary John Hutton, would represent a major step for the UK in meeting its obligations towards the EU’s target of 20% renewable energy use by 2020.

“The draft plan I’m setting out today could allow companies to develop up to 25 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2020, in addition to the eight gigawatts already planned”, Hutton said.

If built, the combined 33 gigawatt capacity would be enough to power every home in the country, according to the government. Construction of the necessary wind turbines would be preceded by an environmental impact assessment of the seas surrounding the UK coastline.

While wind power currently accounts for less than 1% of the UK’s electricity production, Hutton believes the country is “now the number one location for investment in offshore wind in the world and next year we will overtake Denmark as the country with the most offshore wind capacity”, he said. 

Hutton’s announcement was met with scepticism in the UK, however, as some questioned the ability of the market to deliver.

While the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) officially welcomed the plan, Gordon Edge, BWEA’s Director of Economics and Markets, called it a “pie in the sky”.

Citing insufficient investment returns, “supply-chain constraints in installation vessel capability and insufficient turbines”, Dan Lewis of the Economic Research Council believes the UK government is “deluding itself on a grand scale. There will be no race by investors to build offshore wind farms”, he said.

Increased subsidies for the project have been announced, but Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven argues that only “long term guaranteed ‘feed in tariffs’ favoured by all of our European partners” would provide investors with enough certainty to move on the project.

In addition to concerns about financing and capacity, there was also concern that the announcement was an empty promise.

“I do not think this government has ever been serious about renewables, and I strongly suspect that officials have consciously held them back to make space for the failed and dangerous technology that is nuclear”, said Jeremy Leggett, former member of the UK Renewables Advisory Board.

And Alan Duncan, Tory shadow industry secretary, said the announcement looked much like a similar announcement made five years earlier, which never materialised. 

  • Economic Research Council (UK)Website

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