UK’s wind generation capacity surpasses 20GW milestone

The UK's total wind generation capacity has reached 20GW for the first time, following the opening of the world's largest wind farm off the Cumbrian coast earlier this month.

Trade body RenewableUK announced the achievement of the milestone today (17 September), after work to extend Ørsted’s £1.2bn Walney Facility was completed at the beginning of September. The 189-turbine wind farm now spans an area the size of 20,000 football pitches and has a capacity of 659MW, enough to power the equivalent of 590,000 homes. 

According to RenewableUK, the total operational capacity of onshore and offshore wind in the UK currently stands at 20,128MW, which is enough to meet the annual power needs of more than 14 million homes. This capacity has enabled the nation to reduce its CO2 emissions by 25 million tonnes annually by switching away from fossil fuels.

RenewableUK’s executive director Emma Pinchbeck said the growth of the UK’s wind sector had been “phenomenal”, adding that she was “confident” the nation would reach 30GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030.

“It took 14 years to install the first 5GW of wind energy in the UK and we’ve now installed the same amount in under two years,” Pinchbeck said. “That phenomenal growth shows just how quickly the UK is moving to a smart, low carbon power system and wind energy is at the heart of that.”

The milestone comes shortly after the publication of the UK Government’s latest Digest of UK Energy Statistics, which revealed that renewables accounted for a record 29.3% of the UK’s electricity in 2017. Wind power accounted for half of the renewables mix, with 8.6% of the overall total sourced from onshore wind and 6.2% from offshore. In total, electricity generated from wind power increased by 11% compared to 2016 levels.

Onshore hopes

While RenewableUK welcomed the “historic milestone” of 20GW, the trade body is continuing to lobby for policymakers to introduce legislation which will spur the installation of new onshore facilities.

Onshore wind has been locked out of the UK’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) framework since 2015, with the current auction process only open to less established renewable technologies such as offshore wind.

Reports suggest that 1GW of new onshore wind farms would be £30m cheaper a year than offshore wind, and £100m less than new nuclear or biomass plants. In response, the UK Government has signalled that onshore wind and solar projects could be allowed to compete for subsidies in future CfD auctions.

But onshore wind remains absent from the latest round of CfD auctions, which will take place in May 2019. The UK Government has unveiled plans to add between 1GW to 2GW of renewable wind power annually throughout the 2020s, and, for the first time, remote island wind providers are eligible to bid for contracts at the next CfD auctions.

“Over half of the UK’s wind energy capacity is onshore, which is the cheapest option for new power,” Pinchbeck said.  “However, Government policy preventing onshore wind from competing for new power contracts means that consumers will miss out on low-cost power that will keep bills down.”

 Sarah George

Comments (3)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Still not a fan of wind turbines, particularly badly sited wind turbines, but there is no denying 20GW of maximum capacity is a milestone. Especially given how much of it is located offshore where winds do tend to be a little more reliable.

    However there still remains a couple of questions:
    a) what is the real world capacity? That is what % of this 20GW is actually reliable produced for the majority of the time? Wind turbines only produce their maximum capacity at a very small window of wind speed before they have to throttle back to avoid damage and that wind speed is actually a lot lower than people think
    b) what happens when the country is covered by a massive High pressure system and wind speeds are too low for turbines to actually produce power? The blades may be turning but the turbines are not producing enough power to power themselves. Where is the backup for these times?

    The problem with onshore turbines is they are often in remote, highland areas which destroys a visual environment, or degrades it at least, creates problems with changes to watersheds and erosion from installing access tracks. I have no problem with the turbines in Norfolk that sit quietly turning in the corner of farmers fields but why are we still installing hundreds in the hills and glens of northern Scotland. This should stop until the Central Belt (where the majority of the population of Scotland live) or the M4 corridor (where millions of people live) take as many turbines in their backyards.

    We also need to start to move away from turbines and develop other sources so we have a balanced supply and are not relying on a single source.

  2. Ben Burton says:

    Doesn’t matter how many wind farms you have the wind doesn’t blow 24/7. Solar and wind mills still need to be backed up by fossil fuel generators. tidal is the only way forward that is predictable generation. They should stop windmills now as they are unreliable to generate consistent baseload power. Windmills only generate 15 to 20% of there rated output.

  3. Richard Phillips says:

    And that 20GW will still go down to a few tens of MWs when we have a large area of high pressure over the UK and the surrounding seas.
    Nature is highly variable, and demand is continuous.
    All attempts to offset this situation are exponentially expensive.
    Richard Phillips

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