The UK Government’s green energy proposal released earlier in April caused a great deal of excitement across the market, with investors gearing up for the potential change in the energy landscape laid out in the administration’s ambitious plans.
However, the weighty proposal has come under scrutiny due to a perceived oversight of the wind energy sector. Scientists have pointed out that the Government has not yet taken advantage of the level of power which the country is capable of generating for consumers, adequately capable of meeting household electricity needs.
Experts have also pointed out that the UK appears to have accelerated its investment in nuclear power, which is a far lengthier and more expensive process than its breezy counterpart for energy production requirements.
So, what exactly is going on behind the scenes, and are we actually overlooking a far easier, more cost-friendly option to power the UK to the detriment of consumers?
The Benefits of Wind Power
Despite the comments from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that wind turbines are an “eyesore” to behold, the renewable energy alternative has been backed by scientists as the possible saviour of UK power.
According to a study from researchers at the University of Sussex and Aarhus University in Denmark, onshore wind turbines have the capacity to match 140% of the UK and Ireland’s energy demand if wind farms were established on prime territory for the maximisation of energy potential.
“Our study revealed that the UK and Ireland had the potential to generate 2,150 TWh of energy from onshore wind, assuming a realistic capacity factor of 28%, which means was the mean capacity factor of onshore wind turbines in the UK in 2020,” said Professor Peter Enevoldsen, who conducted research on the report.
The current rate of onshore wind farm energy generation so far accounts for a mere 4% of the UK’s onshore wind potential.
Experts have also highlighted the fact that introducing further onshore wind farms would empower local communities by lowering energy costs and giving them a say in their power infrastructure on the ground.
“If we are going to reintroduce onshore wind, how can the host community benefit?” said Communities for Renewables managing director Jake Burnyeat.
“We think local communities should have a right to buy a meaningful share of any windfarm – maybe 20% or one in five turbines.”
“The community could then use surplus income (after operating and finance costs) to fund net zero transition and fuel poverty projects in the surround locality.”
With energy costs skyrocketing and the 54% rise in the energy price cap tacking on an additional £700 per year to households already struggling under the burden of 7% inflation, it seems that accelerated investment in wind power should be the road to take in the looming energy crisis.
“[Even] without accounting for developments in wind turbine technology in the upcoming decades, onshore wind power is the cheapest mature source of renewable energy, and utilizing the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100% renewable and fully decarbonized energy system,” said Enevoldsen.
Potential Opposition from Backbenchers
Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband recently claimed that Boris Johnson was being “held to random” by backbenchers opposed to windfarm developments in the UK.
Onshore wind has been backed by experts as the cheapest alternative means of energy for a struggling number of households in the millions, and so it seems odd that it would not have been further prioritised.
The Government’s energy rollout guidelines set the target of raising offshore wind generation from 40GW to 50GW by 2030, but reports from the Guardian cite a leaked earlier edition of the plan which aimed to increase onshore wind capacity from 15GW to 45GW.
However, that earlier ambition was nowhere to be found in the final draft of the Government’s agenda.
Miliband said that onshore wind could actually have replaced Russian oil imports within 24 months, filling a much-needed reliance gap in a mere two years, less than half the amount of time required to develop a small nuclear reactor.
He also added that the administration’s refusal was “not because of the national interest but because some Tory backbenchers said they didn’t want it to happen.”
So far, the Government has been hauled over the coals by everyone from Ed Miliband to Greenpeace, who labelled the energy transition plans “completely inadequate”, while the Association for Renewable Energy & Clean Technology heaped insult to injury with their accusation that the party had “failed to rise to the challenge facing the country.”
Energy and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng released a statement this week which said that the Government would “double-down on every available technology” in support of his comment that cheap renewables were the UK’s “best defence against fluctuations in global gas prices.”
However, despite reiterating offshore wind ambitions to 50GW by 2030, his extensive renewable energy reach did not tap into onshore wind by even a mere passing comment.
It seems odd that the Government has left something so valuable to the taxpayer on the table, picking up the heftier and more time-consuming nuclear option instead.
There has been a lot of excitement over the upcoming nuclear investment, with the Government committing to up to 24GW of nuclear power by 2050, triple the current amount.
The administration estimates that the nuclear alternative will represent 25% of the UK’s projected energy demand.
The investment will go towards Small Modular Reactors (SMR), which have been developed by Rolls-Royce, who received a £210 grant from the Government on top of a £195 investment from private firms in 2021.
The Reactors are a form of nuclear fission reactor in a miniaturised edition of the conventional version.
Experts criticised the move and emphasised last year that the focus should be on renewable energy and not nuclear.
The Reactors would be the size of around two football pitches and cost approximately £2 billion per project, providing a more expensive and less efficient means of energy compared to the established wind power potential.
CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said that while he supported the investment in nuclear reactors, the scale of investment in nuclear should be replicated across other renewable energy options.
“Big bets on nuclear will provide clean and stable power for consumers and businesses.”
“This scale of ambition should be replicated for other renewable technologies like onshore wind. Commitment to planning reforms and rapid approvals is what will really make the difference now.”
However, the time frame will mean that households are unlikely to see results from the UK’s nuclear investment until around 2030.
The first SMR is currently on a projected schedule to receive regulatory approval by the middle of 2024, with the Reactor estimated to generate power by 2029.
The five-year time frame from start to finish is more than double the timespan required to develop an onshore wind farm, which means that despite the lofty ambitions of the Government to kickstart Britain’s flailing nuclear industry, it does nothing for the millions of consumers who need cheap energy right now.