Wind can bring strategic benefits to the UK; it is zero-carbon, indigenous and reduces the country's reliance on imported gas, points out the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). Furthermore, it is the only low-carbon power source that could be built in sufficient quantities before 2015 to replace retiring coal and oil plant.
The key to unlocking this potential is extra support for offshore wind. If offshore wind fails to deliver, investor confidence in other technologies such as wave and tidal will be weakened, warns the BWEA. "Finding a solution for offshore, whether within or without the Renewables Obligation (RO), will be a key test of the government's resolve to set the UK on the path to a low-carbon future," it says.
The RO requires electricity retailers to buy an annually increasing proportion of their power from renewables. The level currently stands at 6.7% and will rise to 15.4% in 2015. The BWEA would prefer the RO to remain as it is, with extra support delivered outside the mechanism. But it says it is open to the argument that the RO may need to evolve to direct more funds to emerging technologies.
BWEA also calls for government action in other key areas. First, it should turn its "aspiration" for 20% of electricity from renewables by 2020 into a firm target to maintain investor confidence in the sector. It should extend the level of the RO to 20% in 2020 from its current 15.4% top level in 2015. The government should tackle delays in deciding planning applications for onshore wind projects which are threatening the industry's ability to deliver on government targets. And grid bottlenecks must be resolved in time to allow onshore wind to deliver the 2010 target, it says.
A contribution of over 20% from wind and marine renewables can be delivered and will not reduce power system reliability. The association's Marcus Rand says the research is the most extensive undertaken on the deliverability of wind and marine renewables and should provide energy minister Malcolm Wicks and Prime Minister Tony Blair with the confidence to commit the UK to generating a fifth of its needs from renewables by 2020.
Sticking to policy
Britain's Renewable Energy Association (REA) urges the government to focus not on setting a new direction for energy policy, but on implementing existing policies to ensure its renewables objectives are met. Nonetheless, action on shortening planning decision time-scales and strengthening the grid are needed to allow renewables to realise their potential. Like the BWEA, it also calls for a 20% renewables target by 2020 and transitional measures for early scale-up of offshore wind.
The period for consultation under the energy review ended in mid April after the government had received 2000 written responses, met with 500 energy and environment experts and listened to the views of the public. "It is now time for us to analyse this evidence, incorporate it together with our own analysis and thinking to prepare a report for the Prime Minister by the summer," says Wicks. "In the coming months, the decisions we need to take will determine energy strategy up to the middle of the twenty-first century."