"We had a fantastic 2008 for consents [of wind farms]," says Gordon Edge from the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). A record 4 GW of projects gained construction permits, split equally between onshore and offshore projects. Scotland continues to lead the way. Since the Scottish Nationalist government was elected in 2007, the wind industry is seeing a steep rise in the number of project consent applications being decided by Scottish ministers, Edge says. More than 1.2 GW of wind was permitted by the Scottish government last year.
A large chunk of Scotland's consented capacity is taken up by Airtricity's 456 MW Clyde project in South Lanarkshire, which is set to become Europe's largest onshore wind farm. But a further 907 MW of projects that applied for planning consent were refused, including the controversial 652 MW application lodged by AMEC and British Energy for the Scottish island of Lewis. "But at least we are now getting decisions," comments Edge. "The previous [Scottish] administration just sat on its hands, which was very frustrating." The 2008 consents bring total permitted wind capacity in the UK to 8 GW.
Edge puts the development spurt down to a boost in investor confidence and certainty in the market following the government's 2007 energy policy paper. This confirmed increased support for offshore wind, but also allayed the industry's concerns that support for onshore wind might be reduced. Another sign of renewed confidence in the British market was the number of planning applications for new wind farms made during the year. Developers applied to build 3 GW of wind, more than double the 1.3 GW of applications in 2007. It brings onshore wind projects awaiting decision in the UK planning system to some 7 GW.
But the BWEA complains that developers are still having to wait too long for decisions on planning applications, despite the passing of a new Planning Act in 2008, which established the much trumpeted infrastructure planning commission (IPC) to speed decisions on large projects in England and Wales, including large wind farms. The BWEA argues that the advent of the IPC will make precious little difference in practice to the wind industry since most of the available sites in England and Wales are suitable only for projects of less than 50 MW, and therefore beyond the commission's remit. BWEA is urging the government to underline the need for wind energy in its forthcoming national policy statement on renewable energy so that good projects stand a better chance of being consented by local authorities, says Edge.
Transmission access remains another major barrier to wind deployment in Britain. Yet Edge reports solid progress on a number of fronts. The transmission access review was completed by the government and energy regulator Ofgem during the year, which paved the way for network owners to invest in the wires ahead of time to meet demand from new renewables. It established working groups to look into options for long term reforms of the grid access process and it gave the go-ahead to transmission operator National Grid to adopt short-term measures to deal with the long queue for connections. In addition, the Energy Network Strategy Group was reconstituted to study the investment needed in the wires to allow the UK to meet its 2020 target for up to 35% electricity from renewable sources of energy.
The year also saw the welcome return of a dedicated government ministry for energy -- the new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). This reflects energy's rise in importance up the government agenda. One of DECC's first moves was to introduce new legislation to provide a simpler alternative to the Renewables Obligation Certificate system for supporting micro-generation and small-scale renewables. The industry is still waiting to see the details of a promised standard price for the purchase of electricity from small-sale renewables.
The 928 MW of new wind capacity installed in the UK in 2008 was divided into 30 wind plant onshore, one offshore wind farm and a handful of scattered sub megawatt turbines, to bring total installed wind power capacity in Britain and Northern Ireland to 3334 MW (table). Britain overtook Denmark to land in fifth place in the European country rankings behind France. It retains its title from 2007 as the world's biggest offshore wind generator ahead of Denmark. By year end, 573 MW of wind plant were operating in British waters (page 118).
The big rise in annual installed capacity is mainly a result of the part completion of two big projects, ScottishPower's 322 MW Whitelee wind farm near Glasgow and Centrica's 194 MW Lynn and Inner Dowsing offshore wind farm. The commissioning of the first phases of these projects nudged the UK past 3 GW in October. Scotland is yet again home to most of the new capacity, with over 50% of the 2008 total located north of the border. Twenty per cent was built onshore in England, although the figure rises to nearly 40% if offshore wind is included. Northern Ireland managed 8% of the total, while Wales continues its abysmal performance with just 1% of new capacity.
Wind turbine supplier Siemens retained its grip on the British market, securing a 56% share (chart). Nordex made a strong showing in second place with 19%, but Vestas, which for the past decade has always been a powerful presence, dropped to fourth with just 7%. Spain's Acciona made its debut in the UK with a 27 MW project built by ScottishPower, the UK arm of large Spanish utility Iberdrola.
Over 70% of all the new capacity last year is owned by utilities or their renewables subsidiaries. ScottishPower led the field with three large projects totalling 283 MW, including 100 turbines at its huge Whitelee project, boosting its installed renewable capacity during 2008 from 382 MW to 665 MW. The company remains the UK's leading wind operator.