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Wind Energy Production Increases in the U.K.

Ground view, looking upward at wind mill
Offshore wind farms such as the London Array have added significantly to the wind power capacity of the United Kingdom. Roughly 15 percent of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources at present, and half of that comes from onshore and offshore wind power. London Array Limited

Onshore and offshore wind energy capacity in the United Kingdom has increased significantly in the past 12 months, according to a study released earlier this month.

November 19, 2013—Given the finite amount of fossil fuels available worldwide and the damage their use causes to the environment, the push for nations to develop renewable energy solutions to meet daily energy needs is increasing. In the United Kingdom, a recent 12-month period saw a record-breaking level of development of offshore wind energy capacity, and a significant increase in onshore wind energy capacity as well, according to a state-of-the-industry report released earlier this month, Wind Energy in the United Kingdom.

From July 2012 to June 2013, offshore wind capacity in the United Kingdom increased by 79 percent while the onshore wind capacity increased 25 percent, according to the report, which was produced by London-based RenewableUK, a nonprofit trade and professional association. By the end of June 2013, installed offshore wind capacity grew by 1,463 MW to a total of 3,321 MW. Onshore wind capacity grew by 1,258 MW to a total of 6,389 MW.

Combined, the total wind capacity in the United Kingdom grew 40 percent, from 6,856 MW to 9,710 MW. Overall, this represents enough power to support 5 ½ million homes within the nation, according to the report. Wind energy now comprises 50 percent of all renewable energy generated in the United Kingdom, according to the report. And renewable energy makes up 15.5 percent of all electricity generated within the nation. The government has established a goal of reducing the United Kingdom’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent within the next forty years.

At the end of 2012, the Global Wind Energy Council ranked the United Kingdom sixth worldwide for wind capacity, according to the report.

The record-breaking offshore wind capacity growth that RenewableUK identified was the result of four large-scale projects that became operational during the 12 months covered by the report: Greater Gabbard, Gunfleet Sands III, Sheringham Shoal, and the London Array.

The type of new onshore wind projects within the United Kingdom, however, is changing due to the “feed-in tariff,” a national program that offers homeowners the ability to install small turbines to generate their own energy. Any excess energy can be sold back to the grid for profit. As a result of this program, two-thirds of the new onshore projects that came online during the year were made up of individual, small-scale projects, according to the report.

John Lang, a spokesman for RenewableUK who responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering online, said that despite the impressive growth seen in wind capacity throughout the United Kingdom, “What we really need in the U.K. is a genuine mix of energy sources. No one source is going to provide all the power we need, at least not in the foreseeable future, so we need to focus on getting the mix right.

“That means renewables like wind, wave, and tidal, other low carbon sources like nuclear, and even some gas as well,” he said. “The key point is how we shift this balance to be heavier on the low-carbon and renewables side and lighter on the fossil fuel side.”

The government received international attention when it announced that it had reached a commercial agreement with the Paris-based EDF Group for a plan to build the nation’s first nuclear power station in 20 years. To be located in Somerset, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant is anticipated to generate enough electricity to power nearly 6 million homes, according to a government website.

The United Kingdom’s wind capacity continues to grow, reaching 10,210 MW by the time the report reached publication. And an additional 2,868 MW—1,571 MW onshore and 1,297 MW offshore—is currently under construction, according to RenewableUK.

Despite this rosy picture of increasing wind capacity, however, political and policy uncertainty are the biggest challenges currently facing wind power in the United Kingdom, according to Lang.

“In terms of changes to the framework of support from [the] government, 2013 has been a big year” he said. “We have seen the government publish its strategy for offshore wind and we are still waiting for the energy bill to be passed by Parliament. We need to get that passed soon so that we can get on with developing the projects we need to hit our targets and enjoy the economic benefits that renewables energy affords us, through inward investment and jobs.”

The energy bill, which will reform the electricity market and encourage low-carbon electricity generation, has passed the House of Lords in Parliament and is awaiting a final vote in the House of Commons, according to Lang.



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