UK Overtakes Denmark in Offshore Wind & Announces Feed-in Tariff Plans

“From just 1 gigawatt of installed wind capacity in 2005, this week we will pass 3 gigawatts (GW). We have now overtaken Denmark as the largest producer of offshore wind in the world” Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown told this year’s British Wind Energy Association conference on October 21, the same day that Energy Minister Mike O’Brien visited Centrica’s newly completed offshore wind farms Lynn and Inner Dowsing, off the east coast of England.

Together, these two wind farms have added an extra 194 megawatts (MW) to the UK resource, meaning that with a total of almost 598 MW, offshore wind now makes up 20% of the UK’s installed wind capacity, overtaking Denmark’s 423 MW offshore wind.

“Offshore wind is hugely important to help realize the Government’s ambition to dramatically increase the amount of energy from renewable sources. Overtaking Denmark is just the start. There are already five more offshore wind farms under construction that will add a further 938 MW to our total by the end of next year. We are also assessing plans to increase the total by a massive 25 GW in the future. That’s enough electricity for every home in the country,” O’Brien said

The largest of the five offshore wind farms under construction is the 504 MW Greater Gabbard, due for completion in 2010.

Further up the pipeline is the massive, 1 GW London Array offshore wind farm, which will itself supply 1 percent of the UK electricity. As reported a few days ago, Abu Dhabi-owned Masdar has just taken a 20% stake in this wind development, following the withdrawal earlier this year of Shell. Speaking at the BWEA meeting this week, Energy Minister Mike O’Brien called this investment – a signal that the oil states want to diversify their energy interests – a “very important development”

Not all the action is at sea, however – a further 772 MW is under construction onshore, including the 322 MW Whitelee wind farm, 143 MW of which is now commissioned.

Feed-in tariff

Just a few days earlier Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for the newly created Department of Energy and Climate Change, had committed the UK to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050 as a major contribution to a global deal on climate change. He also announced that the government would be revising the current Energy Bill to offer a feed-in tariff for small-scale renewables, likely to support solar photovoltaics (PV), small wind and the like. The details of this have yet to be disclosed.

The existing ROC (tradeable certificate) incentive scheme for wind and other large renewables, the government said will be maintained – O’Brien explained at the BWEA conference this was a deliberate move and would avoid any loss of market momentum that a switch to another incentive scheme would probably create. In recognition of the extra challenges faced in developing offshore wind, these projects will qualify for extra certificates – 1.5 ROCs.

Going for growth

The UK has a target to supply 15% of all its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and 30% of its electricity from renewables. This will require tenfold growth in renewables in just 12 years, creating a £100 billion [US $157.6 billion] market and creating 160,000 jobs.

Quizzed at the meeting however, an expert panel generally agreed that while this target could potentially be met, there remain in place plenty of obstacles that make it unlikely, in spite of positive government statements. The general consensus – running throughout the event – was that issues of planning approval and grid connection in particular could still hold up progress. The government, however, is “still listening”.
Grid connection for offshore remains complex, with some calling for a “complete rewiring” of the UK to accommodate its upcoming growth in renewables, and others – notably Eddie O’Connor, CEO of the newly founded Mainstream Renewables, calling for a greater, longer-term vision for offshore wind and the building of an offshore “superhighway” to connect North Sea wind installations, allowing the UK sites to serve mainland Europe, and with Norwegian hydro resources acting as the “battery of Europe”.

The effect of the current credit crunch on wind power development – in the UK, as elsewhere – remains an unknown, but is “likely to be short-term” rather than longer, thought experts at the conference. 

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