Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Offshore wind could power every home in the UK by 2020, says government

Another 5,000-7,000 wind turbines could generate enough electricity by next decade, concludes energy department study

Offshore wind power could generate enough electricity to supply every home in the UK by the end of the next decade, the government announced yesterday.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change study concluded that another 5,000-7,000 wind turbines could be built off the coast by 2020, generating 25 GW of energy, equivalent to 25 large coal-fired power stations. The new capacity would be on top of 8GW already being built or in planning, making a total of 33GW.

The results of the year-long research into the geology, birds and marine life goes even further than the Carbon Trust, a company set up by government to help businesses reduce carbon emissions, which last year said the UK could build a total 29GW of offshore wind.

However, the announcement was clouded by claims from the energy company E.ON that the economics of what is the UK's biggest current off-shore wind project, the London Array off the coast of Kent and Essex, were "on a knife edge".

Emily Highmore, a spokeswoman for the company, said they were "committed" to the London Array and another 300MW project in the Humber, but could not "guarantee" they would go ahead. A third E.ON off-shore wind project, in the Solway Firth between England and Scotland, is under construction. "Off-shore wind has always, and will always be, very expensive," she said. "We can't be confident it will go ahead, but we believe it's a cracking project and very important to helping the government meet its renewables targets."

E.ON wanted the government to double the financial support for offshore wind, said Highmore. "We think it [the 33GW target] is ambitious and it's only going to be possible if we sort out funding, grid access and planning," she added.

The Carbon Trust report also urged government to make more offshore sites available for developers at lower cost, help invest in research and development to improve efficiency, and improve the National Grid.

Yesterday Tom Jennings, the Carbon Trust's strategy manager, said many recommendations were already being put in place, but more detail was needed, for example, in planning regulations. "The economics in the short-term are looking marginal [but] in the long-term they should look attractive, as long as the costs reduce," said.

If successful, offshore and onshore wind power could cut total UK carbon dioxide emissions by 14%, and create up to 70,000 jobs in the UK, supplying both domestic and export markets, said the Carbon Trust report.

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