Guest Blog: Michael Parker – UK wind power – Time for action

First of all, I would like to thank Wayne  for providing me with the opportunity to talk about wind energy today . You might wonder, why I chose the headline […]

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By george marshall

First of all, I would like to thank Wayne  for providing me with the opportunity to talk about wind energy today .

You might wonder, why I chose the headline “time for action”, as if  you look at the statistics of wind energy in the UK today, it all looks very positive: Offshore and onshore wind supplied almost 10% of the UK’s total electricity supply in 2014, according to RenewableUK – almost a third of the overall 35% provided by renewable sources.

And in last month’s first wave of the government’s new Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions, of the 27 contracts awarded to low-carbon generators, 17 went to wind projects, with 15 of these relating to onshore wind, including 3 RWE Innogy projects..

As I said before this all sounds very positive. However, while the UK has one of the best locations in the world – and the best in Europe – to generate clean energy from the wind, recent reports have highlighted the continuing uncertainty and misunderstanding which prevails around the industry, and the risk this poses to the UK falling behind and missing out on huge opportunities.

Political uncertainty is harming investments

Let me explain that a little bit further. Despite the mechanisms of the government’s Electricity Market Reform package now being in place, political uncertainty still seems to be harming future investment in renewables, especially in the run up to the General Election in May. According to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), investment in UK wind projects is slowing down.

While the UK currently has more installed offshore capacity than the rest of the world combined, other European countries are catching up. Analysis by Ernst & Young (EY) also points to a reduction in the UK’s overall appeal for renewable investment – be it wind, solar or other.

Funding concerns

In the Ernst & Young [EY] Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, released recently, the UK dropped to eighth place out of 40, marking its lowest rating in 12 years.

Let me quote one of the report authors: “Despite increasing the budget available for projects bidding in the first round of the CfD scheme, there is still concern that the funding available, particularly for future rounds, is insufficient to support the capacity required to meet the UK’s 2020 targets or achieve energy security.”

Public misconceptions

So, as you can see, there is some need for action in the political arena. But what is the public thinking about wind energy? General public support for renewables stands at 80%, according to the Department of Energy & Climate Change’s Attitudes Tracker. However, research by OnePoll reveals some negative perceptions about the industry. For example:

  • The average wind power subsidy estimated by respondents is 14 times higher than it actually is (ie £259 of a typical £1,300 domestic dual-fuel bill rather than the actual £18 it is).
  • The majority (90%) don’t realise that wind turbines actually generate power 70-85% of the time, with half thinking it’s below 40%.

These are just some examples of the misunderstandings  we are confronted with every day.  To help, we have  prepared a short video, to simply  explain the benefits of onshore wind,..which I would like to invite everyone to watch!

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. A few simple policy changes can restore certainty and confidence, and help ensure that the UK retains its role as a world leader in wind energy.

For example, while the recent CfD process has been a success in terms of driving costs down and bringing forward the most economic projects – which also brings down costs for the consumer – in order to maintain this momentum, the industry needs the detail of future auction rounds, in particular the size of budgets available.

Planning to keep abreast of developments

Also, enhancing the online planning guidance rules to recognise the benefits of using more  modern and efficient turbines will make it easier to use turbines that are only slightly larger, say 131m high instead of 125m. So with little additional visual effect, we can reduce the cost of energy and get the same amount of total energy from fewer turbines, leading to significant investment and new jobs for the UK.

What’s more, unblocking the blacklog in planning applications for onshore sites would provide further clarity and certainty to investors, which will help to ensure that wind energy continues to play an important role in the UK’s diverse energy mix.

Add to this that we want communities to benefit from green energy production. That’s why we are developing and supporting  community shared ownership schemes, allowing local communities to directly benefit from wind farms like never before. These moves have the potential to strengthen confidence in the future and correct misconceptions about the industry.

We stand ready to work as a proactive partner in making all of this a reality.

 

Michael Parker is the Head of Onshore Development at RWE Innogy.

This is a sponsored article.