United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Onshore wind is UK litmus test

One of the last pieces of legislation passed through the UK parliament under the premiership of Theresa May set a target of net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. It was supported by the man who has succeeded her as prime minister, Boris Johnson.

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How the target will be met is rather less clear, though offshore wind will play an important role. The sector deal recently struck with the government aims for 30GW of offshore capacity by 2030, roughly three times the current figure if you include Ørsted’s 1.2GW Hornsea Project One, now at an advanced stage of construction.

The Committee for Climate Change, which advises the government, envisages 75GW of offshore wind in UK waters by 2050.

It is worth pointing out that this will have to include replacement of decommissioned capacity. Around 20GW of the country’s offshore wind will be at least 25 years old by 2050.

A positive route for onshore wind is less easy to discern. UK government policy since 2015 has ruled out any form of support, blocked the sector from bidding in contracts for difference tenders, and imposed permitting restrictions that effectively rule out significant new development.

Yet onshore wind is the cheapest form of electricity generation in the country, and enjoys widespread public support across the political spectrum.

Emma Pinchbeck, deputy CEO of UK trade association RenewableUK, describes onshore wind as being the "real litmus test" of the government’s net-zero emissions ambition.

If the administration under Johnson does not move to open the door for onshore development, it will be very hard to take those ambitions seriously.

Restrictive

Any revision to policy for onshore wind will also have consider the current UK "guideline" of a maximum tip height of 125 metres.

The rotor diameters alone of the new generation of onshore turbines coming to market are bigger than that, and these machines are offered with towers of above 160 metres for tip heights of more than 250 metres.

The UK’s tip height restriction rules out access to this technology, and the cost benefits that higher ratings, taller towers and longer blades would bring to consumers.

Johnson’s record on environmental issues is mixed, to say the least. He is well known for saying whatever he thinks his audience is most likely to want to hear.

But we shouldn’t have to wait long before we discover if his government is genuinely committed to the target.

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