offshore windfarm

Offshore wind capacity could increase five-fold by 2030s

Industry watchers are blown away by breakthrough electricity generation results from 2017 and herald moves by government and Crown to boost the number of turbines operating off Britain's coast.

Britain’s burgeoning offshore wind capacity could increase five-fold by the 2030s, slashing carbon emissions and household electricity bills, a new specialist sectoral analysis claimed today.

The expansion of existing wind farms and construction of new ones around the British coastline is seen as key to meeting the country’s carbon reduction targets, and the Crown Estate, which manages vast tracts of Britain’s seabed on behalf of the Queen, has announced it will work with stakeholders to consider leasing further sites for turbines.

The UK government’s recently published Industrial Strategy also gave a clear indication that the ruling Conservative Party backs expanding offshore wind. Onshore wind, by contrast, went entirely unmentioned in the strategy.

Berlin-based consultancy Aurora Energy Research, whose work was funded by the offshore wind industry, concluded that applying a range of government incentives would enable capacity to increase to 30GW in little over a decade.

Under current and announced funding arrangements, wind capacity would hit 20-24GW by the mid-2020s. Capacity currently stands at around 6GW.

Results from last year have led to 2017 being described as a ‘breakthrough year’ for British wind farms, which generated more electricity than coal on the vast majority of days in the last 12 months.

Windy weather and the fact that new wind farms like Rampion, off the coast of Brighton, started to come on stream helped the UK achieve its greenest year ever in terms of electricity generation.

Aurora Energy Research’s report, entitled ‘The New Economics of Offshore Wind, determined that a step change in the amount of wind turbines in the seabed around Britain could be achieved with contracts that by 2025 are effectively “zero-subsidy”.

The report urged ministers to continue their policy of ensuring a guaranteed price for electricity generated by offshore wind under the so-called Contracts for Difference regime, and predicted increasing financial penalties for the most polluting forms of power generation.

Britain is among the European trailblazers in the field of offshore wind. The island is, geographically speaking, regarded as being perfectly placed to harness the benefits of the technology. Northern Ireland is considered separate in terms of energy as there is a single energy market in the province and the Republic of Ireland.

The recent fall in offshore wind costs in the British market has been matched by equally impressive cost reductions in the rest of Europe.

In Germany, for example, electricity suppliers Orsted and EnBW submitted bids to build offshore wind farms in 2024/25 without subsidies. Recent bids were also made in the Netherlands, Aurora’s report noted.

Offshore wind is not free from controversy, however. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has warned that wild seabird colonies and threatened species such as puffins and razorbills could be decimated amid the rush for green power. Renewables industry-funded research is being carried out to try and track the movements of birds in a bid to collate data that could inform strategies for mitigating the impact of new turbines.

Aurora senior project leader Hugo Batten said: “Stabilising future market revenues via contracts for difference significantly reduces risks for investors and is critical in attracting financing and supporting further offshore wind build-out, albeit some future price or merchant risk is transferred to the government and, ultimately, consumers.”

Benj Sykes, co-chair of the Offshore Wind Industry Council, welcomed the Aurora report. He said: “Their report again illustrates that the unprecedented reduction in costs that the industry has achieved offers a huge opportunity for reducing the country’s carbon emissions, whilst helping to reduce bills for consumers and create opportunities for UK businesses of all sizes.”  

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