Page last updated at 18:50 GMT, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 19:50 UK

UK expands wind power potential

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

Offshore wind turbine (Image: PA)
The UK is considered to be one of the most wind-rich nations in Europe

The UK government has moved to clear the path for a quarter of the nation's electricity to be powered by wind.

Ministers on Wednesday approved new wind power sites for the Crown Estate around the the UK's coastline.

They also began the tender process for a £15bn contract for the new cabling needed to bring the power onshore.

The government is relying heavily on the wind to meet its European commitments to provide 15% of all energy from renewables by 2020.

A major obstacle to wind was demolished when a study from National Grid last week concluded that the electricity distribution grid could cope with on-off wind energy without spending a lot on back-up fossil fuel power stations.

This conclusion countered a key argument used by opponents of wind power, who suggested that the UK would still need to build extra fossil fuel power stations in order to bridge the gap between demand and supply when the wind did not blow.

Now, another obstacle appears to have been removed.

An independent study had warned that it could be difficult to build wind farms within 12-and-a-half miles of the coastline.

Putting them further away from the shore would keep them out of sight of potential objectors, but would cost more to build in deeper water.

Ministers now say they do not think that proximity to the shore is necessarily a big issue. If the new batch of wind farms get local planning permission they will be up and turning by 2016.

That would clear the way for a capacity of 33 gigawatts of wind power by 2020.

But obstacles still remain: demand for turbines outstrips supply so that has pushed up the price.

It is made worse by the value of the pound because turbines are priced in euros.

It is also still difficult to secure the necessary investment.

On top of all of this, power generators still want a strategic plan from the authorities for a full offshore grid, rather than the ad hoc connections preferred by Ofgem.

That said, it has been a good spell for the wind sector.

And the outlook is good too. A study to be published next week, by consultants Poyry, will suggest that by 2030 wind will be the dominant source of electricity for the UK.

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