Offshore Wind To Power All UK Homes By 2030?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledges 40 GW of offshore wind power by the end of the decade.

Speaking at the virtual Conservative Party annual conference, he committed £160 million funding to upgrade ports and infrastructure to help boost offshore capacity.

Offshore wind capacity in the UK currently stands at just under 10.5 GW, said to be the largest in the world, and already meets around 10% of the country’s electricity demand.

The promise to almost quadruple capacity to 40 GW by the end of the decade is 10 GW higher than the current official target. It was first announced in the Tories’ 2019 General Election manifesto.

In addition, the Prime Minister announced a new target for floating offshore wind to deliver 1 GW of energy by 2030. Such technology enables wind farms to be built further out to sea in much deeper waters where winds are strongest.

He also vowed to double the capacity of renewable energy in the next Contracts for Difference auction, which will open for bids late next year.

Under the CfD scheme, power generation companies receive a fixed price over 15 years for the electricity they provide.

It’s designed to encourage companies to invest in low carbon power – which often incurs high upfront costs – in return for a guarantee of future income.

“We believe that in ten years’ time, offshore wind will be powering every home in the country, with our target rising from 30 GW gigawatts to 40 GW.

“You heard me right: your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle, the whole lot of them, will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands.”

– Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister of the UK

The government plans to publish a broader energy white paper later this autumn where it will set out further steps to ensure it meets its legally-binding target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Winds Of Change Or Just Hot Air?

The offshore wind and renewable energy sectors have understandably welcomed the proposals, claiming it will make the UK a world-leader for low carbon power.

However, critics highlight that houses only account for a third of the country’s total electricity demand.

And if plans for the roll-out of electric vehicles and replacing gas heating with heat pumps come to fruition, domestic power demand will increase significantly.

They also point out the offshore wind pledges mark something of a U-turn for the Prime Minister, who has previously scorned the effectiveness of wind farms.

His conference speech included the passage: “I remember how some people used to sneer at wind power, 20 years ago, and say that it wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding.” This seems to refer to an interview Mr Johnson himself gave to LBC Radio in 2013.

Aurora Energy Research estimates that meeting the 40 GW target by 2030 would require £50 billion of capital investment.

In addition, it would also need the installation of one turbine every weekday for the whole of the decade (260 turbines a year), assuming each turbine has a high capacity of 10-12 MW.

The speech also failed to mention the cheapest form of wind energy – onshore wind – which has been hampered by strict planning regulations in recent years.

Reaction To The Announcement

“Support for new floating wind projects will ensure the UK stays at the forefront of global innovation in renewables, and provides new opportunities in the low carbon transition.”

– Hugh McNeal, CEO of RenewableUK

“The UK’s power sector has reduced emissions by nearly 70%, but we know we need to go further and faster on the road to Net Zero.

“The energy industry will work with government to turn our world-leading low carbon power sector into a green recovery for the whole economy.”

– Emma Pinchbeck, Chief Executive of Energy UK

“Offshore wind is on track to become the backbone of Britain’s electricity system, providing reliable, low-cost clean power to homes and businesses across the country.

“The industry is investing tens of billions of pounds in new offshore wind projects, supporting local economies and employment in communities across the UK.

“Our global leadership in offshore wind, coupled with new support for investment in ports, will help unlock the huge opportunity for the UK to build a world-leading, competitive supply chain.”

– Ben Sykes, Industry Chair of the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC)

“This major step further cements the UK as one of the most attractive markets for investment in offshore wind. We will work with the government and the wider energy industry to deliver these ambitions, creating thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of investment.”

– Tom Glover, UK Country Chair for RWE Renewables

“The level of investment proposed by the Prime Minister is nowhere near matching his rhetoric. The £160 million for wind power due to be announced today falls far short of the £48 billion that analysts say is necessary.

“Nor will it provide what we need to power every sector of the economy, most notably transport. The Green Party proposes that 70% of the country’s electricity should be provided by wind by 2030. The government’s proposals fall far short of this.”

Jonathan Bartley, Co-Leader of the Green Party

“He (the Prime Minister) also didn’t set out how the current grid system will be updated to cope with energy generation on that scale.

“Currently wind farms are all individually linked to the grid – the equivalent of every single house having a cable to the mains grid rather than a local relay station.

“And crucially, offshore wind energy alone simply cannot do what the Prime Minister is saying. To power every home by 2030 we need other forms of low-carbon energy generation too, to offset the variability of wind, like solar, tidal lagoons, biomass stations and hydrogen.”

Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Minister for Energy and the Green New Deal

“Investment in off-shore wind is certainly critical for powering a cleaner, fairer future, but Boris Johnson mustn’t ignore the huge contribution onshore wind could make too.

“We also need a comprehensive nationwide energy efficiency programme to create jobs, cut fuel bills, prevent people shivering in heat-leaking homes and help face down the climate emergency.”

Mike Childs, Head of Policy for Friends of the Earth

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