Wind can still be big winner for UK

Despite the closure of the Isle of Wight’s Vestas wind turbine plant, energy minister Philip Hunt claims offshore wind could still be big business

We can’t negotiate with science — and science says we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent to avoid catastrophic and irreversible effects of climate change.

This December in Copenhagen, countries will meet to build the next international agreement to deliver global action at a scale and urgency that is proportionate to this threat. To stand an even chance of keeping global temperature rises below 2°C we will need to reach an agreement that leads to a 50 per cent reduction in global emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.

The key for Britain is to focus on areas where change is most urgent and where opportunities are most attractive. In the UK, this starts with the trinity of the low-carbon economy: nuclear power, renewables and clean fossil fuels.

Our analysis suggests that wind energy will play a large part in meeting these goals — probably the single-largest contributor to the 2020 target.

And we have adopted a plan for some 25GW of additional capacity in the territorial waters of England and Wales, and the UK Renewable Energy Zone, in water depths up to 60m.

The rate of deployment will depend on a range of factors, including market uptake, the relative cost of offshore wind compared to other options, the ability of other technologies to deliver, the potential for energy exports to other countries and the need for increased renewables capacity beyond 2020.

We are clear that we need to see costs coming down in the medium term for our offshore wind ambitions to be realised. The maturing of the supply chain will be critical.

With the whole of Europe seeking to meet stretching renewable energy targets, at the same time as sharply increased investment in renewable energy around the rest of the world, the existing manufacturing and installation sector will be stretched to its limits. To deliver the renewable energy we need, the manufacturing base will need to develop far more quickly than has happened to date.

Renewables deployment over the next decade presents a huge opportunity for UK industry. We are already the world’s number one market in offshore wind. With the right support, we can grow our renewables industry to become world leaders, supporting tens of thousands of high-value ‘green-collar jobs’. We have some big advantages. We’re close to the deployment sites — and ever larger turbines are likely to be shipped directly from the factory to the installation site. We’ve got several excellent port facilities and coastal land ready for development. We have a skilled and flexible workforce — with decades of experience of offshore work and advanced engineering — and a world-leading research capacity. And we have a track record of supporting successful inward investment.

All of this means we are in a good place to make the most of this huge commercial opportunity, and secure the maximum benefit for UK industry.

This year will see a ramping up of our business development activities to support our offshore wind ambitions. We are fully committed to developing this sector to increase capacity and reduce costs going forward.

We need to continue attracting inward investment. US turbine manufacturer Clipper Windpower’s decision to design and manufacture offshore turbines in the UK was an excellent start, and we intend to build on this. We’ll go on supporting the UK supply chain to enter the wind market, seeking out new companies ripe for diversification from the aerospace, defence or automotive sectors.

And following on from the ports report published earlier this year, we’ll do more to support the development of key infrastructure needed for renewable operations.

We also want to ensure the UK uses its world-leading skills in innovation to best advantage. At the end of May, we invited bids for a £10m fund to demonstrate next-generation technology in offshore wind. Already this has generated considerable interest. There is also significant support from ETI and the Carbon Trust for demonstration activities.

No one underestimates the scale of the task in hand. However, I firmly believe that we can achieve our ambitious goals. Remember, it took almost 80 years to reach around 600MW of generating capacity, a figure that will almost double during the course of this year.

Edited extracts of speech given by energy minister Lord Hunt at last month’s BWEA offshore wind conference