Sea breeze

It’s not been a particularly good year for the energy source that’s thought to be key to our renewable ambitions.


From the cost issues that caused Shell to pull out of the London Array – and this week the Cirrus Array – to the environmental concerns that scuppered plans for a giant wind farm on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, it’s not been a particularly good year for the energy source that’s thought to be key to our renewable ambitions.



The decision to give Npower the go-ahead for its giant Gwynt y Mor wind farm 10 miles off the coast of North Wales is therefore welcome news for the UK’s nascent renewables industry.



The scale of the development is considerably larger than anything else currently in operation. Its 250 turbines will contribute 750MW to the grid, and when it begins operating in 2012 it will be the second largest offshore wind farm in the world. The largest, incidentally, will be the 1GW London Array off the Kent and Essex coasts, which is now back on the agenda thanks to the intervention of Masdar, a renewables investment firm established by the government of Abu Dhabi.



But though such large offshore schemes are to be applauded, their very scale serves as a chastening reminder of the scale of the challenges ahead. Currently there is consent in place for around 3GW of offshore wind energy. The general feeling is that to meet our 2020 targets, we’re going to need 33GW. That’s a lot of work over the next 10 years, and to get anywhere close to this target things are going to have to move a lot faster than they have been.



The government’s planning bill will help matters, cutting the consent time for offshore wind projects and enabling them to actually make that critical step off the drawing board.



But perhaps the biggest issue is the engineering infrastructure – from the turbine manufacturers to the installation equipment – that will be required to make this dream a reality.



There are signs that some are awake to the commercial opportunities here. This week, Californian turbine manufacturer Clipper Windpower hinted at plans to establish a northern England manufacturing base from where it hopes to produce 200 turbines a year by 2014. While closer to home, regional development agency One North East this week announced its intention to inject almost £4.5m of support into the ongoing development of the North East offshore wind industry.



But, as we have argued in this column before, we need more of this, a lot more. Indeed, to meet our 2020 targets, we need the engineering capability to act on every proposed renewable energy project the instant the planners give it the green light. Industrial revolution anyone?

Jon Excell, Deputy Editor