Higher-rated turbines, taller towers and extended rotor diameters are slashing the costs of wind-generated electricity worldwide.
However, the UK, despite enjoying enviably high wind resources and high public support for wind power is cutting itself from this energy-generating cost saving by sticking to an arbitrary turbine tip-height limit of 125 metres.
This artificial limit on turbine tip height stops owners and developer from accessing the latest technology, which has been the driving force behind the falling prices of onshore wind around the world.
In Alberta, Canada, in December, onshore prices fell to C$37/MWh (€24/MWh), while Mexican prices fell to a staggering average price of $20.57 (€17.47/MWh), including a single low bid of $17.70/MWh (€15/MWh).
One of the successful projects in the Alberta auction, EDP Renewables’ Sharp Hills site is set to use Vestas’ V136-3.6MW turbine – a model which has a rotor diameter greater than the tip height planning restriction set in the UK.
Lord Deben’s comments in The Guardian on 10 June are encouraging. If the Scots (or Welsh, or even English and Northern Irish) want onshore wind, why is central government standing the way of CfDs?
Access to support schemes, however economic the delivery, will only encourage onshore deployment so far. The UK, or its devolved administrations, need to allow developers to use turbines with longer rotors, higher nameplate capacities, or taller towers.
This achieves three things.
First, it will mean more sites can be exploited by wind power capacity. Turbines with longer blades can operate just as effectively in low wind areas and be a financial success, potentially bringing investment, community support and jobs to local areas.
And not just low-wind sites would benefit. Taller turbines would also help high-wind sites in the likes of the Scottish highlands where forests and the landscape affect wind profiles.
Further, even some of today’s high-wind models have 130-metre-plus rotors – namely Nordex’s new N131 4.8MW model, which the manufacturer said was aimed, in part, at the UK market.
Second, it would mean fewer actual turbines would be required to reach 2020 and 2030 targets, meaning these aims could be reached on time.
Finally, it will drive down onshore prices even further, allowing the UK consumers to benefit more than the £1.6 billion (€1.82 billion) predicted by BVG Associates in its latest report.
BVG said due to increasing power prices, onshore wind sites could start paying back under the Contracts for Difference scheme, instead of receiving a top up.
Surely, larger turbines also means more megawatt hours of power, meaning more money back to the consumer.
Conversely, by allowing the larger machines, onshore wind sites could soon not need support, able to compete on market prices.
All they may ask for is for some sort of revenue stabilisation to offset some investment risk, but at no cost to the consumer and cheaper than thermal and nuclear generation.
If the UK wants to regain its place as the leader in renewable energy, it needs to adopt the latest technology to exploit the true benefits of onshore wind.
David Weston is the News Editor of Windpower Monthly