Gone with the wind

The Scottish government’s decision to throw out plans for a wind-farm on the Hebridean Island of Lewis is a kick in the teeth for the renewables industry.


Although Scottish energy minister Jim Mather remains bullish over his country’s aim to generate 50 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2020, the scuppered plan – the latest in an increasingly long-line of vetoed projects around the UK – is leading many to suggest that the UK’s chances of meeting 2020 renewables targets are doomed to flounder on the shores of nimbyism and wildlife protection.


But while issues of aesthetics and wildlife protection are frequently put at the heart of the renewables debate there is perhaps another, more practical reason, to be concerned about the future of wind and ocean power.


Even if every alternative energy project on the drawing board were given the green light tomorrow, the UK’s nascent renewables sector would seriously struggle to meet the demand for the hardware required to harvest all of this energy.


As the pages of The Engineer frequently testify, there is a plethora of exciting energy projects dotted around the UK. But although many of these projects are world leading, they are still essentially trialling prototype devices, manufactured at great expense by a loose-knit alliance of specialists and interested sub-contractors dipping their toes for the first time in the waters of renewable energy.


In short, to meet the demand that will be necessary to fulfil 2020 renewables targets, the manufacture of turbines and wave and tidal generation devices needs to go from where it is now to full-on mass production.


However this is done – whether through huge investment in existing renewables companies or through existing industries applying their expertise to a new challenge – it needs to be done quickly. But while there are big opportunities for the bold, the Scottish government’s decision to scrap the Lewis project because it was worried about upsetting a few sea-birds doesn’t exactly provide a compelling argument for getting into turbine manufacture.



Jon Excell


Features editor