'Life is tough' for wind in the UK

UK: For the past 12 months the UK's wind energy industry has been working "if not in total blackout then certainly a prolonged policy brownout", according to RenewableUK's annual report.

RenewableUK chairman Julian Brown makes the opening address at the annual conference

The annual UK wind industry event opened today (6 October) in Liverpool with the launch of RenewableUK's ‘State of the Industry’ report, which "makes difficult reading", said Julian Brown, chairman of RenewableUK.

"Life is tough," he said at the opening session. "We're in that lull at the bottom."

But it is all part of the natural cycle, he added. "Numbers are down, get over it. It's a natural cycle."He encouraged the industry to seek quality over quantity.

The report praised the industry for its growth and its cost-cutting achievements, but slated the government's recent polcy changes.

"We have to nurture our relationship with the new government, especially if we have this government for the next ten years," Brown stated.

Since being elected in May 2015, the new Conservative-majority government has announced plans to close the Renewables Obligation (RO) subsidy a year earlier than originally planned.

There have been other changes to the country's planning processes, subsidies for solar, the feed-in tariff for small-scale renewable energy projects, and alterations to the climate change levy tax exemption.

There is also doubt about whether a second round of the RO-replacement scheme Contracts for Difference will take place, and if onshore wind will be included.

These changes have affected investor confidence. The report found "89% of companies see that government policy has become less favourable in the last 18 months. This figure is at its highest level since [RenewableUK] began surveying industry confidence", it said.

Brown pointed to some evidence of investment, however, referring to Siemens in Hull and MHI-Vestas in the Isle of Wight, both for offshore facilities.

But offshore wind is also struggling, the report says, and the trade body predicts a slowdown in the UK’s offshore market over the next two years and then beyond 2020.

"Offshore wind has seen high levels of construction over the past 12 months, though it is now having to manage a dip in activity. The UK has over 5GW in operation but limited growth over the next two years," it says.

"With the new government yet to set out its aspirations for offshore wind, growth past 2020… cannot be assured," said the report. It also said that due to the slowdown and other active markets, the UK no longer has more offshore wind than the rest of the world combined.

Scottish benefit

The report found that most of the onshore industry is now focused in Scotland. Over 60% of UK onshore projects are installed in Scotland and the Scottish wind industry turns over £211 million a year – more than England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined.

Scotland’s 5GW of onshore wind "should be generating £172 million of annual turnover and £74 million of gross value added for the Scottish economy each year", according to the report.

The importance of wind to the Scottish economy explains the vocal criticism from Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing of the UK government’s recent policy changes.