Are wind subsidies a price worth paying?


The anti-wind lobby gained a bizarrely-coiffed ally last week in the shape of US business tycoon Donald Trump.

Angered by plans to build an offshore wind farm near his £1bn Aberdeenshire golf resort, the entrepreneur used his appearance before the Scottish Parliament’s energy committee to attack an industry that he claimed is inefficient, unable to operate without subsidies, and responsible for killing “massive amounts of wildlife”

Stirring stuff. And despite vocal criticisms over the environmental impact of Trump’s own development, questions about the economic sustainability of the sector will always provoke debate amongst  readers of The Engineer.

It’s certainly true that the UK wind energy industry is heavily subsidised  – to the tune of around £1bn per year according to some reports. Although it’s also true that the extent to which other more mature areas of the energy sector are propped up is often overlooked.

What’s more, with a recent RenwableUK poll suggesting that 67 per cent of people in the UK are in favour of wind energy it seems we think it’s a price worth paying.

There’s a good argument that one of the problems faced by wind energy is the perception that it’s a mature industry. But while it’s certainly true that the core technology has been around formany years, the sector’s still in the process of finding its feet as a mass-manufacturer.  And as our latest feature shows, technical breakthroughs on the production side could have a major impact. Compared to many other forms of energy generation the construction, installation and maintenance of offshore wind capacity presents some significant technical hurdles. Most existing methods rely on some element of construction at sea, a demanding and costly process in one of the most unforgiving environments.

Our feature looks at how Strabag, one of Europe’s largest construction firms, is developing an innovative process that could bring much of this work back onto dry land and potentially usher in a new era of highly efficient serial turbine assembly.

Meanwhile our interview looks at wave power, a renewables fledgling compared to wind, but an industry which, according to Ross Henderson, technology Director at UK leader Pelamis Wave power, is finally poised to make the transition from demonstration to commercialisation.