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Wind Power and the UK

By Brenda Shaw

Wind Energy in the UK
The UK has the best potential in Europe for generating power from wind. It seems to have been complementary with nuclear power although North Sea reserves have also played an important part in the equation. When nuclear power was favoured by the government, wind power was neglected but now, the priorities should have changed.
According to Wikipedia (Nov 2012), 'At the beginning of September 2012, the installed capacity of wind power in the United Kingdom was 6,858 megawatts (MW), with 357 operational wind farms and 3,873 wind turbines in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is ranked as the world's eighth largest producer of wind power.'
Using wind turbines (the modern equivalent of the windmill) and grouping them into wind farms, about one fifth of the current electricity requirements could be generated in the windy parts of the countryside alone. This proportion is about the same as that generated by nuclear power.
As part of EU-wide action to increase the use of renewables energy, the UK has committed to generating 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020, through the DECC Renewables Obligation. Energy from onshore and offshore wind, biomass and heat pumps are the leading contributing technologies. Onshore and offshore wind generation can make a significant contribution to the UKs renewable energy targets given the UKs abundant natural wind resource and the relatively advanced nature of wind generation technology.
Unfortunately while the UK had been neglecting its' wind power potential it seemed to have lost the manufacturing initiative and most turbines are imported, overwhelmingly from Denmark and Germany. According to The Financial Times (12 Oct and 4 Nov 2012), the major manufacturers are Germany's Siemens, Denmark's Vestas and RePower Systems, a German subsidiary of India's Suzlon; Siemens built about 60 per cent of the 800-odd turbines installed in UK seas so far and Vestas built about a third.

Wind Turbines
A wind turbine is a device for converting energy from wind into energy (wind power) which is used to produce electricity. A windmill converts wind energy into mechanical energy to drive machinery for milling grain or to pump water. RenewableUK give a good simple description of how wind turbines work and convert wind into electricity.

Old Wind Turbines in Lanzarote
Wind Turbines in Lanzarote in the Days before We Could See Any in the UK:
Click for a Full View

Wind Farms
A wind farm is just a collection of wind turbines grouped together in a single location to generate electric power. The turbines on a wind farm are connected to the electric power transmission network. Wind farms can be on land (onshore) or in open water (offshore) and can comprise hundreds of turbines, covering many square kilometers, generating hundreds or thousands of MW of electricity. The land surrounding the turbines on onshore wind farms can still be used for farming or other purposes.

Offshore Wind
Offshore wind power refers to the construction of wind farms in open water to generate electricity from wind. As well as seas and oceans, these bodies of water include water areas in shore e.g. lakes, fjords and sheltered coastal areas, Offshore wind farms use traditional fixed-bottom wind turbine technologies, as well as floating wind turbines in deep water areas. This Wikipedia Link gives a good description. RenewableUK  (Formerly known as the British Wind Energy Association) and the DECC site give details of offshore wind in the UK.
The total global capacity of offshore wind is rated as under 5 gigawatts. The UK has significant natural offshore wind resource with its' offshore wind capacity rated at 2.7 GW; this is more than the rest of the world put together (Financial Times, 12 Oct 2012.

Onshore Wind
Wind farms are well suited to being sited on agricultural land where (arguably) they do not appear to cause any problems for farm or wild animals. RenewableUK and the DECC site gives details of onshore wind in the UK.

Objections to onshore wind farms seem to come mainly from residents nearby, some of whom feared the constructions would be ugly and noisy, ineffective and dangerous to birds but even amongst locals, not everyone shares that view. An organisation fervently opposing every proposal for turbines is Country Guardian (see our page on the Natural Environment for more details). Getting planning permission in the face of such opposition is a major obstacle to developments. One of the partial solutions to this particular objection, is to site the wind farms away from inhabited regions and offshore siting is a good example.

A bit of early History
It is historical fact that previous governments have knowingly discarded wind power as a source of energy. However, as the initiative for renewable energy sources gathers momentum under pressures to reduce carbon emissions, the priorities have changed. Investment in Nuclear Energy was curtailed in 1998 and wind power benefited as a result. Having said this, it is alarming that the nuclear industry seems to have some special regard in the eyes of politicians; it keeps raising its ugly head and we suspect some hidden agenda.

During the original drafting of this article (2001) the UK government (DTI) had announced plans to speed up development in selected coastal sites for offshore wind farms. The initiative was welcomed by Greenpeace and the British Wind Energy Association (now RenewableUK).

Late in 2003 we saw that the North Hoyle offshore wind farm (off the NW coast of Wales) was about to start producing up to 60 MW into the national grid (Alok Jha in The Guardian, Life, 20 Nov. 2003). This was the first major offshore farm in British waters but 16 more offshore sites were well under way. The RSPB was concerned in case there was danger for migrating birds. One incidental upside was that the underwater sections of the towers together with the associated vibrations were creating a new and attractive habitat for shellfish and other marine life. Logistically a disadvantage of offshore is that they have to feed into the Grid at its fringes where it is at its weakest. At the same time there were and still are other favourable projects coming on stream, with smaller scale turbines being built on commercial, industrial and tower block sites in urban locations. The turbines are not as efficient as the very large ones at sea but then they can feed into their loads with less transmission loss.

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Originated: April 2001,  Last amended: 29 October, 2013