Offshore renewables – blunted potential

A new report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) questions the future of offshore wind power generation in the UK as the government’s plans to encourage new windfarms are over-expensive and flawed.

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A particular criticism is the failure to attract wind turbine manufacturers to set up in the UK. As a result, only a small proportion of the £billions of investment and public subsidy in offshore wind will benefit the UK economy. Will Straw, associate director at the IPPR, said: “The current policy trajectory could achieve a worst of all worlds outcome – low volume, low jobs and high costs. This would fail our climate challenge, our jobs challenge and our rebalancing challenge. Unless Britain pumps up the volume, there is little prospect of bringing down the costs of offshore wind or creating domestic jobs.”

The IPPR also criticised the UK Government’s lower targets for offshore wind from 18GW in 2011 to only 11.5GW by 2020, rising to 16GW by 2030. At these low levels the chances of the UK meeting its emissions reduction targets are small, according to the Committee on Climate Change. This problem is on top of the £155 per mwh ‘strike price’ for offshore wind that energy companies have described as “challenging”, in terms of profit margins.

The IPPR report also says that the government must attract at least two wind turbine manufacturers to set up shop in the UK, with a boost to jobs locally but also in the supply chain.

Another alternative to offshore wind is tidal turbines. A new report says that turbines stretched across Pentland Firth could generate the equivalent to almost half of Scotland’s electricity needs. Oxford University researchers claim that the Pentland Firth “promises to be one of the best sites in the world for tidal power”. They estimate at least 500MW leading to 1.9GW, although a 1GW target is more realistic.

So, again more positive reports about the potential for offshore renewables, but UK Government policy is much more cautious.

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