We get plenty of it so why aren’t we utilising it?April 30th, 2009 by Barry Potier
The most dramatic shake-up of the UK’s energy market in a generation is scheduled to take place by 2020, but concerns are growing that the current economic downturn could push back the agenda.
Wind energy is spearheading Britain’s efforts to generate 35pc of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020 because the nation has plentiful supplies. Not only that, but there is the potential to create a lot of much needed jobs. Germany for example currently employs sixty-thousand people in the wind energy industry and the U.S. employs 85,000. Yet here in Britain the figure is a mere 4,000.
So why aren’t we going full speed ahead for wind power in the UK? Mark Williamson, director of innovation at the Carbon Trust, recently remarked that “The Government has introduced some good incentive schemes and subsidies, including £1.4bn of support in the Budget for the low-carbon sector. But the greatest immediate potential for renewable energy in this sector is from onshore wind farms, where improved planning processes and better public understanding of the issues are required. This could release a backlog of 8 gigawatts (GW) of power.” That would be sufficient to power about 4 million houses.
A major difficulty is connecting onshore and offshore wind farms to the National Grid. Some wind farms in Scotland have reportedly been standing idle because they have yet to be hooked up. Steve Holliday, chief executive of the National Grid, has said the UK Government needs a “master plan” to tackle the situation, while other experts argue that funds must be made available to extend and reinforce the network.
But is the Government totally committed to wind energy? It appears not. One week after Alistair Darling’s supposedly ‘green budget’ we hear that Haverigg, one of the oldest and most efficient wind farms in Britain, is to be dismantled and replaced by a nuclear power station under plans drawn up by the German-owned power group RWE.
The Haverigg site, on the fringes of the Lake District, was commissioned in 1992 and is believed to be one of only two of its type in this country.
The scheme has been praised by Friends of the Lake District as a fine example of appropriate wind energy development and the turbines were financed by a pioneering group of ethical investors. The site was subsequently expanded to a total of eight turbines after £6m additional investment. Haverigg was still one of the most efficient wind farms with a 35% “capacity factor” – or efficiency – compared with an average of 30%, said Colin Palmer, founder of the Windcluster company, which owns part of the Haverigg wind farm.
We’ve reached a stage where there is an urgent need for the UK government to get their act together, draw up a road map and stick to it. The renewable energy industry is complaining of a skills shortage, but should that come as a major surprise when our ministers seem incapable of telling us which direction we’re heading in?