Offshore Farm Pushes U.K. Wind Power Past 5 Gigawatts

Britain’s capacity to generate electricity from the wind passed 5 gigawatts, enough for 2.7 million homes, as Vattenfall AB opened the world’s biggest offshore turbine farm southeast of England.

The 300-megawatt farm near Thanet means the U.K. has 1,341 megawatts of installed offshore wind capacity, more than the rest of the world combined, industry lobby group RenewableUK said today in an e-mailed statement. Britain also has 3,715 megawatts of onshore wind. The Thanet farm, whose 100 turbines have operated since Sept. 5, was opened today by Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne.

“The U.K. is going to be the fastest-growing market for renewable energy anywhere for the next couple of years,” Huhne said. “We will urge the wind industry to install 10 times more capacity by 2020. To this end, we are currently talking to General Electric and companies such as Siemens and Mitsubishi will play a part.”

Wind power now accounts for 4 percent of U.K. electricity consumption. Offshore facilities play a “make-or-break” role in the U.K.’s goal to derive 15 percent of energy from renewables by 2020, PricewaterhouseCoopers said in July.

Growing ‘Quickly’

“Wind energy isn’t an alternative source of energy anymore; it’s on the scale, and it’s growing very quickly,” RenewableUK Chief Executive Officer Maria McCaffery said in a telephone interview. “This is the signal for a lot to follow. The renaissance of U.K. manufacturing will come with it.”

McCaffery said the growth of the offshore industry in particular may create jobs as companies including General Electric Co., Siemens AG and Clipper Windpower Plc plan and build turbine plants in the U.K. She said it was vital for the government to protect from spending cuts 60 million pounds ($94 million) earmarked to upgrade ports. The Treasury is working on a package of cuts due to be announced Oct. 20.

“Investment is coming to the U.K. and in the wake of it are thousands and thousands of jobs,” McCaffery said. “The onshore wind supply chain is already well-established in Germany, Denmark and Spain. Nobody has an offshore wind supply chain, and we want that to be here. U.K. manufacturing protects us totally from exchange-rate fluctuations.”

Offshore turbines are at present about three times more expensive to erect and connect to the grid per megawatt, according to McCaffery.

Political Support

“Good political support, lots of wind in the U.K. and an attractive economic subsidy regime” are the spurs for offshore wind farm developers to work in the U.K., David Hodkinson, head of development for Vattenfall in Britain, said in a video clip e-mailed by RenewableUK.

The Vattenfall farm was built at a cost of 900 million-pounds ($1.6 billion), and includes 100 Vestas Wind Systems A/S V90 wind turbines, according to the company website.

“The best place to currently build offshore wind farms is the U.K.,” Vattenfall Chief Executive Officer Oeystein Loeseth told reporters visiting the farm today.

McCaffery said the goal for onshore wind is to reach an installed capacity of 13 to 14 gigawatts by 2020. For offshore wind, farms with 4 gigawatts of capacity have planning permission or are being built and in January, the government awarded licenses for 32,200 megawatts of projects to companies including Centrica Plc, RWE AG and Statoil ASA.

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