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Wind power in the UK- still on the up

By Dave Elliott

Wind energy is doing well in the UK. There were periods last year when the UK’s 11GW of wind plant met up to 15% of power demand, over-taking nuclear, and even briefly achieved 24%:

While there have been no shortage of complaints about the alleged high cost, Cambridge Econometrics has calculated that wind plants saved the UK £579m in fossil fuel imports in 2013:

With much more capacity now in place, the savings in 2014 should have been even higher, although overall wind plant output in 2014 was relatively low, due to low average wind speeds (a wonderful long summer), with, in Sept, a load factor of only 9%, the wind capacity then only meeting around 3.3% of UK power demand. For the current output, see:

As for new projects,while some got through, Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles turned down 19 on-land wind farm applications last year, provoking complaints: However, the 2020 target still seems to be around 12GW. It will be interesting to see what happens next- despite it being the cheapest of the major new renewables, the Conservative Party have promised to cut back support for on-land wind even more if re-elected in May. And a backbench Bill to prohibit the use of public funds to subsidise onshore wind turbines got through its first reading by two votes. The Second Reading of the Bill is on 6/3/15.

Meanwhile, progress on new large offshore wind projects continues, with the notional target still set at around 13GW by 2020. The 389MW West of Duddon Sands project has started up in the Irish Sea, and the 69 turbine 250MW Burbo Bank Extension in Liverpool Bay got development consent from DECC. So did Dong’s 660 MW Walney Extension off Cumbria and the Siemens/Mainstream 1.2 GW Hornsea 1 of Yorkshire. And four projects in the Forth and Tay, 2.28GW in all, have got development consent from the Scottish Government – Neart Na Gaoithe, the Inch Cape Inc project, and Seagreen’s Alpha and Bravo projects. E.on’s Rampion off Sussex had already been accepted, but is to be cut by 300MW, to 400MW with 116 turbines, to better suit the site conditions and save money. In another adjustment, a 630MW alternative to the 970MW Navitus Bay project on the South coast has been submitted. Next, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar is to invest £525m in the planned Dudgeon project, off Norfolk, being developed along with Norways Statoil.

Elsewhere though, the story is not so good and may get worse: The 2.2 GW Rhiannon project off Anglesey, the first phase of the 4.2 GW Celtic Arrayin theIrish Sea, was abandoned last year, since‘ground conditions are such that it’s not viable for us to proceed with the technology that’s available at this stage’. Much like the Atlantic Array off N. Devon, which RWE abandoned earlier. And RWE has now decided not to go ahead with the 340MW Galloper offshore project off Essex/Suffolk. It blamed tight time scales to secure financing while still qualifying for the soon-to-expire renewables obligation subsidy scheme. Fellow developer SSE had pulled out of the project in Sept, but RWE said that it had been in talks with possible investors, including the Green Investment Bank. Wind Power Monthly said RWEs move ‘will ring alarm bells about the UK government’s incoming CfD subsidy scheme, with RWE seemingly unwilling to develop the project under this regime.’ It noted concerns that the budget allocated to fund projects under the Contracts for a Difference system wont cover all planned off-shore wind projects. ScottishPower said it could cancel the 1.2GW East Anglia One project off Suffolk, despite it having got planning approval, if didn’t get a CfD.

Even so, with over 4GW installed, the UK still leads the world in offshore wind, and this is translating to employment in manufacturing companies. Though there were some worries. The £20m TAG Teeside offshore wind turbine foundation plant at Billingham was on the ropes, due to lack of orders. But Danish and German investors have stepped in. Meanwhile, MHI Vestas are to lease Vestas’ production facilities on the Isle of Wight (Vestas had earlier closed a blade making plant there) to produce blades for the V164 8MW turbine, as part of a wider £200m UK production plan. And Siemens is to invest £160m in wind turbine production and installation facilities in Hull creating 1,000 new jobs.

So, one way or another, wind power is making its mark in the UK, with offshore wind taking much of the strain and its costs expected to fall, for example as new floating turbine technology is developed: the proposed Buchan Deep scheme, part of Norwegian energy firm Statoil’s Hywind initiative, would have 5 floating turbines about 13 nautical miles from Peterhead. The Contracts for a Difference strike price for offshore wind was £155/MWh in 2014, with five offshore wind projects getting CfDs in the 2014 preliminary round- 3.2GW in all: Liverpool bay (Dong’s 250MW Burbo Bank array), off the Moray Firth (the 664MW Beatrice project), Norfolk (Statoil/ Statcrafts 400MW Dudgeon project, north of Cromer), Yorkshire (the 1.2 GW Hornsea scheme) and Dong’s 660MW Walney Island extension off Cumbria. We are now awaiting the results of first full CfD auction round, though that initially had a £235m p.a overall investment cap set for so called Pot 2 ‘less established’ projects- shared with other less established renewables. But the cap has now been raised by £25m to £260m p.a. Still rather tight..

CfD support for offshore wind is set to fall to £150 in 2016, and then to £140 in 2017. The Carbon Trust’s Offshore Wind Accelerator programme aims to deliver a 10% reduction in cost, but some developers (like Dong) have said they should be able to get down more, to perhaps £100/MWh by around 2020 and possibly near to on-land wind, currently at £95/MWh- though of course that is also likely to fall. More cautiously, DECC has projected that offshore projects starting in 2020 might have levelised costs as low as £105/MWh (Round 2) or £115/MWh (Round 3), but a study for the Energy Technologies Institute suggested they could get down to below £85/MWh ‘in the 2020s’.

In my next post I will look at wind power developments elsewhere in the world. The UK may be winning with offshore wind, but other countries are also in the offshore race, and globally wind overall, mostly on land, is nearing 370GW now, led by China, which is now at around 114GW, although the EU taken as whole has a bit more- nearing 120 GW so far, including Germany’s 34GW. and

But interestingly one recent study claimed that the UK had actually just overtaken Germany in terms of the percentage of total national electricity that wind was producing. Germany’s overall electricity generation capacity is larger than that in the UK, and average wind speeds, and hence load factors, are much higher in the UK, especially offshore- with the UK having much more offshore capacity in place than Germany. So despite the UK’s lower overall installed wind generation capacity, perhaps it’s not so surprising it has been generating more overall percentage output. But it makes a pleasant change for the UK to be winning!

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