The United Kingdom must begin repowering its aging fleet of onshore wind farms if it is to generate enough low-carbon electricity to meet a looming 18% gap in the country’s total electricity demand by 2030.
These are the findings from a new report published this week by the UK’s wind and marine energy trade body RenewableUK, entitled Onshore Wind: The UK’s Next Generation, which lays out a case for replacing or “repowering” the UK’s older onshore wind farms. Specifically, according to RenewableUK, there is over 8 gigawatts (GW) of onshore wind which could be set to retire over the next two decades, but no new policies to account for this potential absence of electricity generation.
Currently, the 8.27 GW of ageing onshore wind accounts for 17.5% of the UK’s entire renewable energy output, but these will soon need to either be retired or replaced.
The benefit of this, however, is that these wind farms already exist — with the necessary infrastructure already in place, such as connection points, operators, and access roads. Further, replacing older onshore wind farms inherently means replacing wind turbines with smaller capacities than are currently available. Thus, not only could older wind farms suddenly get a boost in terms of capacity, but they will need fewer turbines to do so.
The report also lays out the case for potentially upgrading turbines which are already operating before their proposed end-of-use date, or allowing existing projects to operate beyond their originally envisaged end-of-use dates.
“This should be an easy win on climate change that cuts emissions and secures cheap power for consumers,” said RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Emma Pinchbeck. “The public mood is for more urgent action to tackle climate change and this is a concrete example of where Government can act to avoid backsliding on progress against our carbon reduction targets. We need to see positive policies in place that will keep Britain powered up with clean, affordable electricity.
“Without new policies from Government we risk losing huge amounts of renewable energy, so repowering onshore wind is critical to cutting our carbon emissions and closing the looming energy gap. Upgrading our infrastructure with modern onshore turbines is good for consumers, as onshore wind is the cheapest form of new electricity available, and brings investment to communities around the UK.”
The idea of repowering aging onshore wind farms is particularly important as the UK already faces a low-carbon electricity generation gap of up to 18% of the country’s current total electricity demand by 2030, according to the UK Government’s advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). According to RenewableUK, the UK thus faces a further 8.27 GW gap if the country’s ageing onshore wind capacity nears its original 25-year expected lifespan.
On the flipside, however, RenewableUK believes that this 8.27 GW of aging onshore wind could be replaced by as much as 12 GW, going a long way to fill the looming generating gap, but relying on more applications for repowering being approved and more powerful turbines being installed. The report also lays out a ‘low scenario’ in which only 2.76 GW of new capacity would be installed, resulting in a net loss of 5.5 GW as a result of fewer successful planning applications and smaller turbines being used.