The Global View

As oil and gas resources decline, Britain looks to the wind

dong-wind-farmLiving on an island nation gives people a unique perspective on their place in the world. Consider, for example, the island countries being threatened by rising sea levels thanks to climate change. Though tiny in size, their populations roared during the recent climate talks in Copenhagen to express their outrage at the actions of larger developed nations.

And then there’s Britain, which — as its North Sea oil and gas production has declined — is coming to grips with the fact it could one day have trouble keeping the lights on, unless it finds a new way to keep its electrical grid humming.

Today, it’s pinning its hopes on the wind.

As an island country, the UK has long understood the potential of the winds blowing along its ample coastlines and across its landscape. As of last year, wind turbines both offshore and onshore were delivering nearly 3.4 gigawatts of energy to the nation, with more capacity in the development stage. And an announcement today from the Crown Estate, which owns nearly all of Britain’s coastline, grants energy companies rights to add yet another 32 gigawatts of wind-generated electricity to the nation’s grid.

The government is calling the news the “biggest ambition in the world.”

Once completed, the wind-energy expansion is expected to provide the UK with one-fourth of its electricity needs by 2020. It could also become a £75 billion industry that supports up to 70,000 clean-energy jobs.

“Our island has one of the best wind energy resources in Europe and today’s news shows we’re creating the right conditions for the energy industry to invest in harnessing it,” said Ed Miliband, Britain’sSecretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. “This is one of the strongest signals yet that the UK is locked irreversibly into a low carbon, energy secure prosperous future.”

“This is a huge opportunity for the UK, giving us the chance to deliver a step-change in our total renewables capacity,” added Ray Thompson, energy and engineering manager for the regional development agency One North East. “We have already made significant progress in the North East in building the skills and the capacity needed to unlock offshore’s massive potential. The challenge now is to take it to the next step.”

With the expansion announced today, the UK could provide enough power for every home in the nation, as well as reduce its annual carbon emissions by 40 to 80 million tonnes, according to the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).

“Today’s announcement is a major leap forward in realising the potential for clean, green energy production through wind power: it sets the UK apart as the leading offshore wind energy producer not only in Europe but worldwide both in terms of total potential power generation from offshore, and the scale of new, green-collar employment opportunity,” said Maria McCaffery, the BWEA’s chief executive.

Among the companies granted development rights today are ScottishPower Renewables and Vattenfall, which plan to target a major offshore wind zone in the North Sea with the potential to power the equivalent of over 5 million homes a year.

“There is no doubt that delivering the East Anglia Array will be a major engineering challenge but, as the largest developer of onshore wind power in the UK, we have acquired a great deal of expertise in the last 15 years that will help us to achieve such an ambitious project,” said Ignacio Galán, chairman and CEO of Iberdrola, the parent company of ScottishPower Renewables.

The British business organisation CBI also welcomed the wind-energy expansion plan.

“This is as exciting step forward for the UK energy’s industry comparable with the exploration of the North Sea for oil and gas in 1970s,” said Neil Bentley, the group’s director of business environment.

2 thoughts on “As oil and gas resources decline, Britain looks to the wind”

  1. More and more observers are pointing towards renewable energy being the way forward and Leo Roodhart, President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, has written for the Future Agenda project on the energy challenges faced by the globe over the next decade and beyond; in his words, “the days of easy oil and gas are over”: http://www.futureagenda.org/?cat=5.

  2. Great news from the Crown Estate about 32 GW of clean power! If the energy company is right, then the UK will get almost a fourth of its electricity from wind power by 2020!

    If you’re interested in wind energy, check out http://www.greencollareconomy.com. It has hundreds of case studies on emerging green technology and wind farms. It’s also the largest b2b green directory on the web.

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