Government should be cautious on wind power

Sections of the power industry – including voices from the renewables sector itself – have lined up with business leaders to warn the government of the perils of backing wind too strongly in today’s carbon change whitepaper.


 


Power technology experts and tidal energy specialists joined the CBI in urging caution ahead of the expected announcement of a major expansion of the UK’s wind output.


 


The CBI believes that the UK will risk its low-carbon future if it continues to focus on wind power at the expense of nuclear and clean coal energy.


 


In a report issued ahead of today’s UK Low Carbon Transition Plan whitepaper, the CBI referred to the government’s existing energy policy as being ‘disjointed’, claiming that more nuclear power stations need to be built if the UK is to achieve its energy and climate-change targets.


John Cridland, CBI deputy director general, said: ‘Large chunks of our energy infrastructure urgently need replacing. While we have generous subsidies for wind power, we urgently need the national planning statements needed to build new nuclear plants. If we carry on like this, we will end up putting too many of our energy eggs in one basket.’


The CBI warned that, unless its recommendations are followed, the UK will be too reliant on gas supplies, with only 64 per cent of its energy generated through low-carbon technologies by 2030.


The group claims that its ‘Balanced Pathway’ plan would lead to 83 per cent of the UK‘s energy being produced by low-carbon methods. It believes the majority of this energy would come from nuclear, 14 per cent from clean coal technologies, 16 per cent from gas, 20 per cent from wind and 15 per cent from other renewables.


Other industry figures claim that wind provides only part of the low-carbon energy solution, while concerns remain about funding for other forms of renewable energy.


Earlier this month, engineering consultancy Pöyry published a report warning against too much reliance on wind power due to volatile weather patterns. However, planning permission is also a key concern in the uptake of renewable energy within the timeframes set out by the government.


Steve Armitage, commercial vice-president at SmartestEnergy, said: ‘It’s not just the technological side with UK renewables; it’s also the planning permission on the assets. We all know the problems with wind planning but things such as biomass can be as bad because of road transport and local planning constraints.


‘The government needs a broader-based planning regime. From a grid connection perspective, there needs to be much more dialogue between the distribution operators and the government with respect to what government’s trying to achieve and where,’ he added.


Armitage claimed that grid connections for renewable technologies such as wind turbines can be difficult and expensive. They also suffer from irregular energy output.


‘If you have a cement furnace, you can’t just turn that furnace on and off when the wind blows. Energy-intensive large industry users need base-load power and wind is not really going to give them what they need,’ he said. 


Armitage added that the government’s focus on wind is based on risk aversion rather than industry needs: ‘We must not forget we are in a credit-constrained environment and funding of projects is very difficult to find. Any debt-finance project is going to be risk-averse, which tends to lead you down to the wind route.’


Marine Current Turbines also argued that the government’s strategy is misled, claiming that its investment in wind power has been at the expense of other promising technologies such as marine energy.


Managing director Martin Wright said: ‘The current investment climate is the worst in living memory and, following the announcement to increase the ROC multiple to two for offshore wind, there is effectively no market to pull marine energy forward.


‘It will be vital that the government addresses this is in its Renewable Energy Strategy Review and takes urgent action. If not, there is a significant risk that tidal power will suffer the same fate that befell the British wind industry: no home-grown manufacturing and engineering jobs,’ he added.


Ellie Zolfagharifard