Published on March 1st, 2012 | by Ravinder Casley Gera4
New Wind Down, Nuclear Up as UK Rethinks Energy Mix
An island nation buffeted by winds from the Ural mountains and the North Atlantic, the United Kingdom ought to be a world leader in wind power. But a combination of political resistance, cultural conservatism and the distraction of North Sea oil and gas drilling has meant Blighty has never quite lived up to its potential as a centre of wind, especially compared to its near-neighbours Denmark and the Netherlands. (See a listing of the top countries for wind power capacity according to GDP.)
Now, new data from a renewable energy industry body shows that 4 GW of expected new wind projects in the UK in the next few years have effectively been cancelled. The report, from the Electricity Networks Strategy Group, predicts that 28.3 GW of wind power will be installed in the UK by 2020. That’s 4 GW down from their last report, in 2010, the Guardian explains.
The estimate includes offshore and onshore wind power. As an island, Britain is well-placed to invest in offshore wind power, and plans are underway for a slew of new large offshore projects. But the downgraded estimate reflects growing concerns about the economic viability of offshore wind in the UK, as well as increasing opposition to onshore wind from campaigners concerned about the impact on the countryside. A group of MPs from the Conservative party, the larger party in Britain’s ruling coalition, recently wrote to the Prime Minister David Cameron demanding big cuts in government subsidies for onshore wind power. The UK government has already reduced subsidies for solar energy, and cuts to wind subsidies are widely expected later this year.
This is despite the fact that according to another Guardian report, subsidies in the UK for wind power are still significantly less than subsidies to fossil fuels, which mostly come in the form of reduced taxes on energy bills. These subsidies constitute £3.63 billion per year for gas, oil and coal, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and just £0.7 billion for wind and a similar amount for other renewables.
But for the nuclear industry – and supporters of nuclear energy – the news is much better. The ENSG’s report has increased its estimate of Britain’s installed nuclear capacity in 2020 by 5GW.
The ENSG includes representatives of the UK government, the energy regulator Ofgem, and leading industry investors. However, the government has said it thinks its own estimate from last year, of 31 GW of installed wind in 2020, is more accurate, despite being a year old.
For more on the latest developments in wind power in the UK, see Floating Wind Farm Feasibility Study Launched in Cornwall (UK).