Sunday, November 07, 2010

British Power is all Wind.

Britain has decided to go all-out for wind-power. On Thursday, I flew over the massive off-shore Thanet wind-farm - one of the largest in the UK - in the English Channel off Foreness Point. The farm consists of 100 turbines, each over 300ft high, and is expected to power over 200,000 homes. It will increase the amount of energy generated from offshore wind in the UK by one third to 1,314MW. Opened in September, the Thanet wind-farm was built by the Swedish Vattenfall energy company, and increases the number of large scale off-shore British turbines to 436, to be compared with 2,640 based on land.

Not everyone is convinced that wind-power is the most reliant route to clean, renewable carbon-free energy, and it is concerning that Britain is relying on a power source that must be backed up by more constant technologies such as nuclear, coal, or gas, because the wind blows inconsistently, as is its nature. A mere 2% of Britain's electricity was produced from renewable sources in 2002, but it is hoped that this should rise to 10% by the end of the year in light of the new wind-power generating capacity.There are further cost issues in upgrading the national grid to cope with power-surges and the need to switch between different power sources.

It should be noted that electricity provides only around one third of the total energy used in the U.K, and the bulk of that is accounted for by heating and transportation, which is supplied by respectively coal/gas and oil based fuels. Hence the UK will have its work cut out if it is to meet a EU target to raise its overall energy provision from renewables from the present 5% to 15% by 2020.

The actualization of an overall wind-power strategy is not going smoothly, however, and the number of new wind-farms coming on-stream has fallen by 30%, in part as a consequence of the recession. There has also been a fall in the past 12 months by 50% in planning approvals for wind-farms in England, a situation that is also reflected in Scotland. There is also considerable opposition to wind-turbines which are perceived as unsightly and noisy, as is reflected by the 230-odd campaign groups that operate across the whole of the U.K.

Indeed, some of these groups advocate nuclear power as a better option than wind, a situation that would have been almost unthinkable ten years ago. It was estimated in 2008 that to meet the U.K. wind-power goal by 2020 would require building one new turbine every day for the next twelve years. Since progress so far has fallen far short of this rate of conversion, little confidence is lent that the nation will be able to keep its promise on renewables.