The future of onshore and offshore wind power

Growth in the wind energy sector is attributable to a huge range of factors, including financial confidence, technological advancements, legislative support from local governments and increased public support and awareness, writes Allen & York renewable energy recruitment manager, David Blake.

Support from government makes a shift from offshore to onshore wind development this month, as Lord Turner, speaking on BBC Radio 4 proclaims that the mix between onshore and offshore wind development needs to be more balanced in the UK.

This comes at a time when talks surrounding cutbacks in offshore wind farm development scatter the media: “The U.K. government should consider scaling back its ambitions for costly offshore wind power by 2020 and look elsewhere to meet its binding renewable energy targets at a lower cost to the consumer” the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said on Monday 9th May.

Meanwhile, RenewableUK the leading professional association for the UK wind and marine renewables industries, warns against reducing the UK’s 2020 offshore wind targets in response to the recent CCC report, and instead suggests that offshore wind targets need to be increased rather than decreased; “If offshore wind targets are reduced and development slowed, this in turn could hinder delivery of UK renewable targets and prevent the creation of up to 50,000 jobs in offshore wind over the next decade”, argues RenewableUK.

Whichever way the wind blows the targets outlined by the European Parliament in 2008 state that the UK will be required to deliver 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Soberingly, while these targets already provide an immense challenge, the UK will have to go far beyond them in the following decades, to achieve 30% by 2030, which has been suggested by the CCC.

In response to these targets, we are already seeing an increase in onshore wind farm development, with, already this month so far, Danish-owned company Vestas is applying for planning permission for a new plant in Kent to build turbines for the offshore wind industry. This would create 2000 jobs for the onshore wind industry.

In addition, a £38 million wind turbine tower factory is being opened in Chepstow, South Wales which will 240 jobs and has a capacity to manufacture 300 towers per year.

At Allen & York we are also witnessing an increase in vacancies are becoming available – with the aim to improve the efficiency, quality, reliability and safety of each wind energy project.

We have also seen large growth within Central and Eastern Europe and at Allen & York we have worked with major utility companies that have been hiring in this area.

The movement towards more onshore wind development production would give the offshore wind sector and other renewables more time to develop their technologies and reduce costs.

Although wind energy is one of the cheapest of the renewable energy technologies, it currently costs UK wind farms from £2,000 to £4,000 to produce one kilowatt of offshore wind, whilst in comparison it ranges from £1,250 to £1,573 to produce one kilowatt of onshore wind power.

Reasons for the lower levels of development in the onshore wind sector have in the past been associated with planning challenges, particularly due to the scale of expansion required to meet renewable energy targets and the genuine concern that poorly sited wind farms and turbines can damage habitats and fauna.

It is crucial to create an effective planning system that respects nature conservation concerns whilst securing rapid onshore wind development. In order to do this the UK should seek early engagement from stakeholders and clarity of nature conservation concerns, by developing high quality Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) to maximise local benefits and ensure effective ongoing wind farm management.

Recognising the increase in roles in this area, at Allen & York we are expanding our built environment team. Targeted urban planning and related policies, along with research and development, could reduce fuel and financing costs and make on shore wind technologies more viable.

With an international panel stating that three-quarters of the world’s energy needs could be met from renewable sources by 2050 – having the right public sector policies in place is vital.

In turn, the planning for renewables job market is seeing a surge, as the demand for more onshore wind farms increase, and the awareness for more efficient planning processes, there is an increase in due planning processes having to be adhered to.

Another important aspect of the planning process to consider is the political will of the onshore wind project.

Germany and Denmark, along with Scotland and Wales demonstrate the importance of mobilising political will for the delivery of onshore wind development.

Unlike Germany and Denmark, within the UK some local authorities can be discouraged from identifying areas for wind development in local plans, contributing to the slower development of such projects.

In order to speed up their onshore wind developments within the UK, we can learn lessons from the German system. This focuses on regional authority and divides land between priority areas for development and restricted or exclusion areas.

This process appears to be able to provide both clarity and flexibility if properly implemented.

It is clear from reflecting on the recent onshore/offshore debate that the balance in wind power generation needs to be redressed.

Offshore wind farm development has benefited from an investment injection, enabling its surging growth; it may be time to pour some investment and a more cost effective planning focus into onshore wind farm expansion.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie