The UK has planted its flag firmly on the renewable energy technology scene – and it’s not just blowing hot air. Right now, close to a third of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources. Of that, over half comes in the form of wind power.
It’s not difficult to understand why the UK is emerging as such a world leader in this type of technology. As a country, we’re practically built for it, and we’re putting that climatic advantage to good and growing use. Wind power is relatively low-cost to harness after the initial set-up, clean to produce and literally inexhaustible in supply. With close to 11,000 onshore and offshore turbines in operation producing over 24 gigawatts combined, the UK ranks as the 6th largest producer of wind energy in the world. By 2030, according to government commitments, we’ll be looking at boosting that output to over 50 gigawatts, of which 40GW will be generated offshore.
Things are moving fast in the wind power sector, and the resulting increases in efficiency are impressive. Just 5 years ago, it was estimated that the cost of generating electricity this way was adding £18 per year to average household energy bills. However, government targets for bringing those costs down (particularly from the more expensive offshore wind farms) were hit a full 4 years ahead of schedule, dropping by a third. Since then, the costs have only kept coming down, while the percentage of UK electricity it generates continues to rise.
As Europe’s leader in offshore wind capacity, the UK operates more offshore wind farm installations than any other country, and the 50% drop in production costs since 2015 have led to wind being a cheaper power source than either gas or nuclear. A huge amount of the global activity in the sector is taking place in countries bordering the North Sea, with the top 5 European wind power producing countries all having a heavy focus there. Together, the UK, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium account for 97% of turbines in Europe - and as you’d expect, innovation is at the heart of wind power’s extraordinary rise to prominence.
The types of innovation taking place in the wind power sector are varied. Working with both industry and educators, the UK’s Offshore Wind Innovation Hub has identified a number of “roadmaps” as its core priorities:
- Developing new generations of turbines to boost efficiency and expand capability.
- Enhancing fixed and floating wind turbines and substructures.
- Next-generation electrical infrastructure, from array cabling and power transmission to grid integration.
- Future-proofing everything from site development and installation to monitoring and decommissioning.
The effects of all this innovative work are already visible. Sustainable energy specialist Vattenfall has announced that their South Kyle wind farm of 50 turbines in the south of Scotland is set to produce energy for 170,000 homes by 2023. That equates to a carbon dioxide emissions saving of close to 300,000 tonnes per year. It’ll be as if 65,000 cars were all taken permanently out of service at once.
In terms of comparing the relative benefits and drawbacks of onshore and offshore wind farms, most of the arguments tend to centre on a few basic themes. Onshore facilities are reliably more cost-effective, with well over 7 million UK homes having their energy needs met this way. The installations are cheaper to set up and run, and they’re less susceptible to “wear and tear” damage. However, the simple, undeniable fact remains that offshore installations benefit from better and more reliable access to the power source itself: the wind. Onshore wind farms have a tough time competing with their offshore cousins in terms of sheer output. In addition, as noted above, offshore wind power costs are still in free-fall, with new energy costs down by 50% since 2015.
Another factor weighing in the favour of offshore wind farms is the court of public opinion. While the UK population is generally pretty well disposed toward the technology itself (about 75% of us are in favour of it), there still tends to be a certain reluctance to accept wind farms near our homes. Complaints about noise pollution and “eyesores” aren’t uncommon, along with concerns about the risks posed to local bird life. Not all of these complaints have any firm roots in reality, necessarily, but they do need to be countered effectively.
Looking ahead, there’s every reason to be optimistic about the future of UK wind power. New money continues to be invested in the sector, and plans are becoming increasingly ambitious. “Hornsea Project One” off the Yorkshire coast is gearing up to be the largest offshore wind energy installation in the world, with the capacity to power more than a million homes. Beyond that, Hornsea Projects Two and Three are on the horizon, so the momentum is definitely with wind power for the foreseeable future. That’s great news for UK energy businesses, clearly, but the impact of innovation always has the potential to go so much further than that. The rise of wind power is preventing millions of tonnes of CO2 entering the atmosphere each year, creating thousands of jobs in the UK alone and pumping billions of pounds of investment into the country’s economy. It’s a perfect example of why innovation matters, and why it’s so essential to make the very most of your best ideas.
R&D tax credits are the best way to cut the risk and maximise the potential of the most inventive projects in your business. Talk to RIFT today about making sure all of your innovations pay off.