The potential of wind energy is strong and it is finally beginning to take hold in the UK, writes Alison Hill
THERE can be no doubt wind energy is on track to becoming one of the country's major sources of electricity. Planning permission was awarded to 637 MW of wind power schemes in 2002 - more than the total amount built during the previous 11 years.
Since the first commercial turbines in the UK were switched on in 1991, the rate of installation has, until recently, been unspectacular, equating to a mere 50 MW annually. However, the long-expected and well overdue expansion is now becoming a reality across the UK, even in Wales, where critics have said that wind energy isn't a winner.
Quite simply, wind power is the best placed of the renewable technologies to meet the Government's targets for renewable generation in the UK. Capable of generating large volumes of electricity at some of the lowest prices in Europe, Britain's wind power industry is projecting that it will meet 8 per cent of electricity supply in the UK by 2010.
This is equivalent to four-fifths of the Government's target under the Renewables Obligation.
Realising the full potential of the wind sector will of course be challenging. The industry's professional body, the British Wind Energy Association, estimates that a 20-fold increase in deployment will be needed to meet the sectors' projections for 2010.
But this rate of growth, as noted by BWEA in its submission to the review of energy policy, is not without precedent, given the success of the technology in other European countries. More importantly, it is entirely feasible. 'It is not major technical obstacles that stand to restrict the deployment of wind. The barriers that remain are institutional and directly within Government influence, ' said BWEA's submission.
Those barriers affect all renewables: difficulties in obtaining planning permission; constraints imposed by the regulation of networks, infrastructure and connections; and the effect of the regulator's New Electricity Trading Arrangements.
To this can be added a fourth, more generic obstacle - resistance to change. This occurs at all levels, from local populations wary of unfamiliar technology, to a generalised tendency to prefer the status quo in large institutions as diverse as the Ministry of Defence, National Grid Company and regulator Ofgem. We don't like change because it can be traumatic. But change is not only inevitable, it is desirable.
Environmental concerns aside, the UK is at a point in history where the recent chaos caused by too much energy in the supply system will soon be replaced by too little power, and the lights could well go out. In a volatile world with nation states able to hold us to ransom over our sources of power, with the repercussions for both price and for national security that this implies, there is a compelling case to harness wind energy - the vast, readily accessible, low cost, zero-environmental impact fuel source that is literally on our doorsteps.
As the windiest country in Europe, with a resource theoretically equivalent to eight times total energy demand, the wind industry in the UK can meet any targets that it is set. It can be done: industry is willing, companies are investing and the resource itself will certainly not be the limiting factor.
Alison Hill is Head of Communications for the British Wind Energy Association