In 2010, the UK added nearly 1.2GW of wind (see table), bringing total capacity to 5.25GW - supplying around 4% of the UK's electricity. An analysis of last year's build, however, reveals that more than 55% was offshore. The 533MW of onshore projects were the lowest level of additions since 2007.
The good news for wind power is that this does not herald a downward trend. Prospects for this year appear to be similar to last year, but 2012 is shaping up to eclipse previous records.
Thereafter, the industry is concerned that the biggest shake-up of the renewable energy market in a decade threatens future development. This year will bring details of planned electricity-market reform - including the replacement of the existing renewables obligation (RO) with a system of fixed-price, long-term contracts.
Scotland accounted for the majority of new UK onshore capacity in 2010 with more than 70%, followed by England (19%) and Northern Ireland (7%). Wales lags behind with its lowest deployment for many years - a mere 9.7MW - less than 2% of new UK capacity.
Danish turbine maker Vestas catapulted from fourth place in 2009 to become market leader, thanks to two big offshore projects - Robin Rigg and Thanet. Siemens settled for second place, followed by Repower. Utility generators dominated the UK market, sustaining an 80% share of new wind farm ownership.
Around 1.28GW of projects gained planning consent in 2010, bringing onshore consented capacity to more than 4GW. However, onshore wind applications fell from 2009's record 3GW to 1.8GW, which may have implications for the country's 2020 renewables targets.
The incoming government set the stage for a major overhaul of the electricity market as well as the planning environment for wind developers. Both parties forming the coalition government had pledged to introduce a system of long-term, fixed-price support for renewables in their pre-election manifestos to replace the RO green-certificates mechanism.
The government has ruled out public subsidy for new nuclear generation, but the single fixed-price support system will cover all forms of low-carbon generation - albeit with different levels of support for different technologies.
Yet few in the renewables sector had expected the model based on contracts for difference (CfD) that the government unveiled in December. Under the plans, generators would sell their electricity in the wholesale market and receive a top-up payment - or pay money back to consumers if wholesale electricity prices rise above the CfD price.
The most contentious element of the proposals - which are currently out for consultation - is how the contract price should be set. The government's preference for auctions is not shared by the industry, which remembers the fiercely competitive and unpopular non-fossil fuel obligation renewables mechanism of the 1990s. Gordon Edge, director of policy at wind and marine industry body RenewableUK, says: "I suspect that this proposal will not survive contact with reality."
Another concern is that, without the RO, the big six electricity retailers will no longer have an incentive to buy power from wind farms or, indeed, to participate in wind farm development - particularly offshore, where returns might be lower than they would normally accept. This could make it difficult for wind generators to achieve average market prices for their output.
Permitting barriers remain
The major barriers to UK wind deployment have historically been permitting and the grid. Yet new government proposals to change the planning rules could see even fewer projects consented than at present.
December's localism bill proposes devolving more power over permitting decisions to local level, potentially making it easier for local communities in England and Wales to block wind projects. The bill also paves the way for the infrastructure planning commission - recently set up to decide on big projects such as wind farms over 50MW - to be replaced by a new body, with ministers making the decisions.
However, grid connection was eased in August by new rules for connecting to the network. "Connect and manage" rules allow projects to hook up to the wires as soon as their local connections are built, without having to wait for major network reinforcements. The system operator then manages the system more actively, constraining generation at times of network congestion. This will allow around 19GW of renewables projects, some which would otherwise have had to wait until 2025 for connection, to proceed in time to meet the 2020 targets.
ECONOMIC MALAISE SLOWS GROWTH
Key projects completed in Ireland in 2010
Location Developer Turbines MW
Dromada, Limerick SSE Renewables GE 28.5
Garvagh Glebe, Leitrim ESB, Coillte Vestas 26.0
Tullynahaw, Roscommon ESB Vestas 22.0
Gortahile, Laois BNP Paribas Nordex 20.0
Clean Energy Partners
Ballincolig Hill, Kerry Lee Strand Co-operative Enercon 12.8
Dunneil, Sligo SSE Renewables Vestas 11.05
Drumlough Hill 2, Donegal Eco Wind Power Gamesa 10.2
Projects less than 5 MW 22.85
RAPID GROWTH OF WIND MARKET
Projects that came online in 2010
Project Operator Supplier MW
North Scotland 101.9
Fairburn, Highland SSE Repower 40.0
Achany, Highland SSE Repower 38.0
Tullo, Aberdeenshire Eneco Nordex 17.0
Hill of Fiddes, Broadview Energy Enercon 6.9
South Scotland 260.5
North Rhins, Dumfries AES Wind Generation Vestas 22.0
Pates Hill, West Lothian AES Vestas 14.0
Craigengelt, GDF Suez Nordex 20.0
Toddleburn, Borders SSE Siemens 27.6
Crystal Rig 2, Borders Fred Olsen Renewables Siemens 138.0
Burnfoot Hill, EDF Energies Nouvelles Repower 26.0
Carcant, Borders SSE Siemens 6.9
Tangy 2, Argyll & Bute SSE Gamesa 6.0
Northern Ireland 35.0
Hunters Hill, Tyrone ESB Nordex 20.0
Crockagarran, Tyrone ESB Nordex 15.0
North England 51.5
Rusholme, Yorkshire EDF Energies Nouvelles Repower 24.0
Haswell Moor, Durham E.ON UK Repower 10.3
Lindhurst, Nottinghamshire RWE Vestas 9.0
Great Eppleton Repowering E.ON UK Repower 8.2
South England 35.2
Milton Keynes, Bucks AES Vestas 14.0
Goonhilly Repowering, REG Windpower Vestas 12.0
Delabole Repowering, Good Energy Enercon 9.2
Wern Ddu, Clwyd Tegni Cymru Cyf Enercon 9.2
Robin Rigg, Solway Firth, E.ON Vestas 180.0
Gunfleet Sands, Essex Dong Energy Siemens 172.8
Thanet, Kent Vattenfall Vestas 300.0
Various regions 39.5
Projects less than 5MW 39.5