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Last Updated: Monday, 10 December 2007, 16:55 GMT
Wind 'could power all UK homes'
Wind farm
The aim is for 20% of EU energy to come from renewables by 2020.
All UK homes could be powered by offshore wind farms by 2020 as part of the fight against climate change, under plans unveiled by John Hutton.

Up to 7,000 turbines could be installed to boost wind produced energy 60-fold by 2020.

The business secretary admitted it would change Britain's coastline, and mean higher electricity bills.

Senior Tory Alan Duncan backed the plans, adding: "We're an island nation. There's a lot of wind around."

Mr Hutton said there would have to be a switch to low-carbon energy production to combat the threat of climate change.

Coastline 'will change'

"But if we could manage to achieve this, by 2020 enough electricity could be generated off our shores to power the equivalent of all of the UK's homes," he told a European energy industry conference in Berlin.

We do know that if wind farms are put in silly places they can kill lots of birds, they scare off whales and dolphins and fish
Mark Avery

"This could be a major contribution towards meeting the EU's target of 20% energy from renewable sources by 2020.

"The challenge for the government and for industry is to turn this potential - for our energy and economy - into a cost-effective reality.

"Next year we will overtake Denmark as the country with the most offshore wind capacity."

Just 2% of Britain's power comes from renewable sources, and wind is the source for around 2.2 gigawatts.

Calm days?

The government hopes that it could provide around 33 gigawatts by 2020, which would mean introducing some 7,000 turbines.

Mr Hutton conceded that having a wind installation every half-mile around the coast was "going to change our coastline".

Wind farms? Excellent idea - now just get on with it and stop faffing about
Nick Smith, Huddersfield

"There is no way of making the shift to low-carbon technology without making a change and that change being visible to people," he said.

"We've got a choice as a country whether we rise to the challenge... or stick our head in the sand and hope it (climate change) goes away. It is not going to go away."

Asked what would happen if there was no wind for a few days, Mr Hutton said that was why there had to be a mix of energy sources - including nuclear power - to cover for calmer weather periods.

'Aspirational targets'

He also said he wanted the UK to be self-sufficient in energy: "I do not want in 20 years' time to find that whether the lights go on in the morning is down to some foreign government."

The first tranche of offshore wind farms began in 2001, followed by a second wave two years later in the Thames Estuary, the Greater Wash and the North West.

The engineering effort to build 7,000 large offshore turbines by 2020 would be enormous, unprecedented and is probably underestimated
Sue Ion
Royal Academy of Engineering

Some eight gigawatts of capacity could be up and running by 2014, including the one gigawatt London Array, the biggest offshore wind farm in the world.

In Berlin, Mr Hutton said the next stage in the expansion of offshore wind power would open up the vast bulk of the UK's continental shelf to large scale development.

However, the Royal Academy of Engineering said it was so concerned about the UK's ability "to meet these aspirational targets" it was starting a new study on the engineering challenges of offshore wind projects to report next year.

Wind 'can't do it all'

"We applaud any initiative to boost the contribution of renewable energy sources within a balanced energy portfolio," said Sue Ion, vice president of the academy.

"However, wind power cannot provide all our electricity - the engineering effort to build 7,000 large offshore turbines by 2020 would be enormous, unprecedented and is probably underestimated."

And Mark Avery, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: "We do know that if wind farms are put in silly places they can kill lots of birds, they scare off whales and dolphins and fish."

Shadow business secretary Mr Duncan said the UK should use its offshore capacity for generating electricity "that's clean and secure".

"So yes, I think it's inevitable and a good thing that there will be more offshore wind."

'Enormous' potential

Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems' environment spokesman, said: "This is a welcomed change in tone from the government, but ministers need to pay households to install micro-generators and also invest in big schemes like the Severn Barrage which alone could generate 5% of our electricity needs."

Friends of the Earth renewable energy campaigner Nick Rau said the potential for wind power was "enormous".

Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said the plans amounted to a "wind energy revolution" but stressed that premium prices needed to be guaranteed for clean electricity.

Carbon trust chief executive Michael Rea said the plans would "require substantial investment before it can be realised at this scale".

Maria McCaffery, chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association, said: "All we're really talking about is harnessing our tremendous natural resource."

Arguments for and against wind power


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