2012 turned out to be a huge year for small wind in the United Kingdom, as the industry nearly doubled in size to pass £105 million in total value.
The record year of installations is creating economic tailwinds for the UK’s green economy and a more resilient energy system, according to the seventh annual “Small and Medium Wind UK Market Report” from RenewableUK.
While these sectors of the wind energy industry remain relatively small in comparison to utility-sized and offshore wind in the UK, they’re now responsible for 102.5 megawatts (MW) of installed distributed generation capacity across the UK – and are projected to continue growing through 2014.
Small Wind Springs Up Across The United Kingdom
Small wind seems perfect for the UK. It’s home to the most significant wind resources in Europe and a fifth of its population is located in rural areas, making it an ideal for small and medium wind turbines, which can help power off-grid locations.
“With about 20% of our population living in rural areas, it’s vital we find ways of powering the rural economy, and wind is doing exactly that,” said Maria McCaffery, RenewableUK Chief Executive.
Nearly 23,600 micro (0-1.5 kilowatts), small (1.5-5 kilowatts), and medium (50-500kW) wind turbines sprung up across the country from 2005 to 2012 with almost all of them located away from cities – 64% were installed on farms and another 22% at rural households.
2012 was truly a boom year for small wind in the UK. More than 3,700 small and medium wind turbines were deployed across the country for a total of 37.5 MW installed capacity – 71% higher than 2011’s 21.9 MW.
Beyond installed capacity, actual output also surged. Over the course of 2012, total electricity generated by all small and medium wind turbines increased 58% to reach 248.5 gigawatt hours. That’s enough to power 58,248 UK households, equal to 106,851 tons of carbon dioxide emissions if the electricity came from the national grid, and the equivalent of taking 47,071 cars off the road.
But hold onto your hat – if all planned 2013 installations go online this year, total capacity will pass 171.3 MW across the country, with 46% of that capacity in the 15kW-500kW range.
Green Economics Along With Green Energy
In addition to boosting clean energy output, small wind is also carving out a distinct and sustainable niche in the UK’s green economy.
“The small and medium wind sector is the only micro generation technology in which the UK has a world-leading manufacturing industry. As a result, it provides a valuable asset to the UK in terms of employment, off-grid electricity generation and long-term investment for individuals and small and medium enterprises.”
The country is now home to ten turbine manufacturers and more than 3,300 full-time workers were employed in the small- and medium-wind industries during 2012, a 310% increase from 2010 when only 610 full-time workers were employed in small wind.
The strongest sector of the small wind industry is found within the 100kW to 500kW size range. Manufacturers in this band predict sales of their turbines to grow 257% in 2013.
These workers are increasingly competing in the global market, too. While manufacturers forecast a 48% growth in domestic sales worth £157.2 million across 2013, they also predict more exports than domestic sales for the first time.
Good thing, because domestic demand is expected to wane due to a decreased feed-in tariff from the national government. Much of 2012’s boom is attributed to developers rushing to install turbines before tax incentives ended, and installations of smaller-capacity turbines have already started declining.
However, foreign demand is already starting to pick up the slack, which should keep the domestic industry in business. 25,000 turbines were exported between 2005-2012, with 3,200 units exported in 2012 and 61% sold to non-UK European Union states.