Seizing the Opportunity for the UK : Wind Power Could do 20 Percent in a Breeze

If Chicago is the windy city, then the UK is the windy country. With over 40 percent of the total European resource blowing over the island, there’s enough power in the wind to meet the UK’s energy demand eight times over.

Nick Goodall, Chief Executive, British Wind Energy Association The significance of the scale of this eminently sustainable and free fuel is not lost: Prime Minster Tony Blair has said that he wants the UK to be ‘a leading player in the coming green industrial revolution,’ commenting that the country is home to some of the best natural resources in the power of the wind and the waves. Combined with another British asset, the existing expertise and infrastructure of the offshore sector, the renewable potential becomes big business indeed, paving the way for ‘UK plc’. And companies are investing – now. This year (2002) will be the single-most successful year ever for new wind power installed in the UK, increasing generation capacity by over 40 percent. Plans have been submitted for a further 1000 megawatts (MW), with an additional 1500 MW in the pipeline, including Europe’s largest ‘brownfield’ site and what will be the largest wind farm in the world, a minimum of 600 MW on the Isle of Lewis. More wind energy is waiting in the wings: the offshore sector is set to start making its considerable contribution at an initial 18 sites, representing as much as 1600 MW. This is why BWEA expressed surprise at one of the key recommendations of the Performance and Innovation Unit’s report to Government on the future of UK energy policy, namely that 20 percent of electricity supply in 2020 could come from renewable sources. This is a modest target indeed – companies are already gearing up to generate this much from wind energy alone. We’re in a paradox. It’s never appeared more likely that the UK will harness its abundant renewable resources, but the perennial question ‘Can renewables deliver?’ (a favourite of those who, I suspect, would rather they didn’t) highlights the obstacles that are ranged against these technologies. Of course they can deliver. Pick a number! Simply remove the non-technical barriers! The bad news is that there are many challenges. The good news is that almost all of them are in the gift of government to solve: the electricity trading arrangements (NETA), changes to the grid and the planning process that need “to be overcome if the UK is to meet its current target of 10 percent of electricity met by renewables by 2010” alone. In addition, there has to be significant improvement by government departments on the interplay between energy and climate change policy. Sometimes, the threats are from the most unlikely places. Who would have foreseen the MoD (or perhaps, but even more implausibly, Osama bin Laden) as being one of the greatest threats to the prospects for offshore wind? Wind farms a threat to national security? You couldn’t make it up. Never has a clearer example of the need for ‘joined up’ thinking been necessary. Our task is to turn the recommendations of the PIU report into reality. The inevitable consultation that might prove to be the final staging post on the road to a clear direction for energy must produce a 20 percent target for 2020 for industry and commerce to line up behind renewables The capacity will be built, but only if the incentives, and more importantly, the attitude is there. Companies in the UK are ready to build wind farms – 20 percent should only be the beginning. Author Access: Nick Goodall, 40, has been the Chief Executive of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) since May 1997. He is also the Chairman of the Confederation of Renewable Energy Associations; Director of the European Wind Energy Association; and the Director of the Scottish Renewables Forum. Since 1997, BWEA has almost quadrupled in size to become the largest of the UK renewable energy associations with around 185 corporate members and an income of £450,000 (US$640,000.) Closely involved in the establishment of the UK offshore wind industry, Nick Goodall also speaks on onshore wind energy and other renewables at countless conferences around the world. He appears frequently on both TV and radio and has given evidence to both Houses of Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and to many other consulting bodies.
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