It is probably fair to say that Britain is rarely first at anything but last week the tiny isle became the largest producer of electricity from off shore wind farms in the world. In fact according to an article in the Financial Times, Britain now generates more power from off shore wind than the rest of the world put together to be fair that is only a small fraction of the total power generated from wind and contrary to some suggestions is no reflection on the excess of hot air that emanates from Britain’s parliament. The world beating position was achieved this month when 100 turbines were started up at Thanet off the UK’s south-east coast bringing Britain’s total to more than 5GW of wind generating capacity. Briefly on September 6, more than 10% of the UK’s electricity came from wind power during one 24 hour period according to a quote in the paper.
Offshore wind farms are a sight to behold, without the concerns of visual pollution or noise associated with many land based projects turbines at the upper end of current technology are employed. Thanet Development’s 100 turbines are each over 375ft tall and generate 3MW of power. Collectively they can generate enough power to supply 200,000 homes, and are spread out in eight lanes over an area of 35 sq kms (13.5 sq miles).
The title of world’s biggest offshore wind farm will not last long though, the Guardian newspaper reports that just up the coast is the Greater Gabbard offshore project with its 140 turbines, which will be followed by the even bigger London Array scheme in the Thames Estuary. When completed, this alone will generate 1000MW. But as off shore wind developments hit the headlines alongside it is a growing annoyance that just as in the US with solar power, a significant part of the components and work is going to overseas suppliers. In the case of the UK, only 20% of the £900m ($1400m) that has gone into the industry has gone to UK firms. Most of it has gone to German and Danish turbine manufacturers who have ramped up onshore turbine manufacturing capabilities to make the much larger off shore installations. Even the project’s backers in the case of Thanet are the Swedish energy company Vattenfall. Cash strapped Britain has a choice over whether to spend some £60m ($90m) to upgrade port facilities to build the off shore structures and hence bring more of the work into the UK or to continue to import equipment. With an estimated £200bn of investment identified to meet potential projects around windier Scotland’s coast in the coming decade there is plenty of opportunity for a good ROI on any such investment. If the British government in London will not support it, the Scottish parliament is said to be setting up a “green bank with some £360m ($550m) to fund port and related infrastructure in an effort to keep as much work at home as possible.
In a geographically small market like Europe every country will have to fight hard even for a decent share of the funds being spent on their own renewable infrastructure. It really would be a poor deal for Britain if British consumers continued to subsidize wind-power through heavy tariff premiums only to pay German and Danish turbine suppliers and line the pockets of Swedish shareholders.