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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 April 2006, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
UK offshore wind 'at crossroads'
Windfarm off the Norfolk coast, UK (Image: PA)
Are the winds of change blowing in favour of offshore farms?
Offshore wind energy in the UK is unlikely to reach its full potential unless there is additional support from the government, a report shows.

The study says the fledgling industry is at a "critical stage" and economic and environmental opportunities could be lost without further assistance.

The research was commissioned by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).

Ministers are currently reviewing the UK's energy strategy and will publish their findings this summer.

The research - carried out on behalf of the BWEA and Renewables East, a renewables agency for eastern England - said that an estimated 8,000 MW of capacity, enough to power five million homes, could be online by 2015.

The findings said this would be equivalent to 6% of the UK's electricity supply.

However, the study warns that only about 2,000 MW is likely to be built without further support from the government. At present there are four offshore farms, with a combined total capacity of 213MW.

'Economic gap'

Marcus Rand, chief executive of the BWEA, said the UK needed to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the technology.

"Our offshore wind resource is of immense strategic importance to the UK. There is a huge amount of activity in the sector with more than 8,000 MW of schemes in development.

Farming the UK wind

"However, this potential will only be realised if the current economic gap is closed," he added.

The government's main mechanism for supporting renewable energy comes through its Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme. It requires electricity suppliers to source a percentage of their power from renewable sources.

The current target is 5.5% for 2005/06, rising to 15.4% by 2015/16.

Under round one of the RO, offshore wind farm projects are also eligible for capital grants from the government to help meet construction costs.

But the BWEA says there is uncertainty about whether similar funding will be available in round two, which they say is making it difficult to attract investors.

The research has been published to coincide with a conference on offshore wind, organised by the BWEA, who is calling for the government not to overlook the sector in its energy review.

ELECTRICITY GENERATION
BBC graphic

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks, who is leading the government's review, was among the speakers at the meeting in central London.

Last week, the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) announced that offshore wind farm operators would no longer have to connect the sites to the national grid and pay for it up front.

Instead, grid companies would bear the cost and then charge operators an annual fee.

Mr Wicks told delegates on Tuesday: "Grid connections are likely to form 10-15% of capital costs for the round two wind farms, given the considerable cable lengths involved.

"Certainty about how the grid connection costs will be funded, and the regulation that controls them, is therefore a key factor that developers need in preparing their business models," he added.

Last week, ministers said the UK was unlikely to achieve the goal of cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2010.

The government is currently undertaking a review of its energy strategy and is looking at how the UK can meet its future energy needs, while delivering affordable fuel to customers and cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

The BWEA said the findings of the research would form part of the wind power industry's submission to the review.




SEE ALSO:
Wind power 'ahead of predictions'
27 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
Giant wind farm plan thrown out
02 Mar 06 |  Cumbria
Coastal wind farm tourism fears
09 Feb 06 |  North West Wales
UK 'has high-quality wind supply'
14 Nov 05 |  UK Politics


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