United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Wind power a thriving business in Britain -- A giant leap at last

"Record breaking," is how the British Wind Energy Association sums up the UK wind industry's performance last year. With 444 MW installed, 2005 eclipses previous years. Even so, the figure fell short of the 600 MW predicted by the BWEA, caused by slippage in the construction schedule of a couple of large wind farms now slated for completion in early 2006.

"Record breaking," is how the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) sums up the UK wind industry's performance last year. With 444 MW installed, 2005 eclipses previous years. Even so, the figure fell short of the 600 MW predicted by the BWEA, caused by slippage in the construction schedule of a couple of large wind farms now slated for completion in early 2006.

The year saw total UK wind capacity pass the 1000 MW barrier, rising to a total of 1342 MW. The location of the 19 new projects built last year shows a wider geographical spread than in previous years (table). But although the largest number of projects is in England, most of the new onshore capacity is in Scotland with its excellent wind resource and lower population densities.

The trend towards ever larger projects continues, with three record-breaking wind farms commissioned during the year. First was Fred Olsen Renewables' 50.6 MW Rothes wind station, shortly followed by Falck's 58.5 MW Cefn Croes wind farmin Wales. The record currently stands with ScottishPower's 97 MW Black Law wind farm. Also completed was Elsam's 90 MW Kentish Flats wind farm -- Britain's biggest completed offshore project.

The year also showed a wider spread of turbine manufacturers, with Siemens carving out a 43% market share, breaking Vestas' long-held dominance. GE took third position, while Gamesa and Repower both made their debut in the British market. The spread in ownership of the new projects reflects the growing number of independent players entering the UK market, challenging the utilities' grip on the UK wind market.

Future looks bright

The prospects for 2006 are even brighter. "We are guaranteed to see some 702 MW of wind projects this year which are all are under construction now," says the BWEA's Chris Tomlinson. That figure could increase if more projects begin construction this year, he adds. Among the wind farms due for completion are the 90 MW Barrow offshore project off north west England, Scottish and Southern Energy's 120 MW Hadyard Hill wind farm and npower's 92 MW Farr wind farm. Nearly 800 MW of wind was consented in 2005, on a par with 2004's record rate. It brings total onshore consented capacity to over 2000 MW. Moreover, a further 7000 MW of onshore wind is planned.

In Scotland, delays in processing planning applications for large projects of over 50 MW continue to be a source of frustration. Over 4000 MW of wind is awaiting determination by the Scottish Executive. The log-jam is due in part to lack of manpower in the Scottish Executive's energy consents unit. Jason Ormiston from Scottish Renewables points out that only one large project was approved in Scotland last year. "It is not just that determination times are too long, but they are simply not making determinations," he says. "Our members feel that the Scottish Executive could be more proactive in speeding up the process." But the Scottish Executive is not the only cause for consenting delays, says Ormiston. Some 50% of large Scottish projects are held up by objections from the aviation industry over wind turbines' effects on airport radar, he adds.

The British wind power market is driven by the Renewables Obligation (RO), which came into force in 2002. The legislation obliges power retailers to supply fixed proportions of their electricity from renewable energy each year, with an ultimate target of 15% by 2015-16. In the current year 2005-06, retailers are required to source 5.5% of their power from renewables. With demand for green power under the RO far outstripping supply, retailers are paying prices as high as £0.09/kWh for renewable energy, making wind plant development a thriving business.

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