The announcement made by Siemens together with the UK's Associated British Ports on 25th March 2014 that they are to invest a total of £310m in UK wind turbine factories concentrated on Humberside is surely a huge step forward for the UK’s renewables industry in general and for wind power in particular.
Geographically the UK is one of the best placed countries in Europe to harness wind power, particularly offshore wind power which is far less disruptive of people’s lives and amenities and of the landscape. While the UK currently ranks third in the EU in terms of wind power, it is still well behind Germany and Spain in terms of actual capacity.
What is more, if we look at the amount of wind-generated power available per head of population, the UK is currently in 10th place, behind Denmark (the leader), Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Estonia and Cyprus. In other words, of the EU countries facing the Atlantic, with its endless supply of wind, the UK currently lags behind every country except France (with its abundance of nuclear power) and the Benelux countries, with their much shorter coastlines.
The UK has already set itself a target of producing 31% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. In 2012 renewables accounted for just 11%, which will require almost threefold increase in just eight years!
This target is, to say the least, ambitious, and of course investment in wind turbines is part of it. Wind will not be able to deliver the whole share and it will only work efficiently if the grid is capable of managing supply and demand. The UK has already seen situations in previous years where wind turbines had to be stopped because the generated electricity could not be used.
Development of solar power will continue to be important, not least because in the climate systems found over the UK (and much of Western Europe) when it is sunny it is less likely to be windy, and of course vice versa. That said, there will still be calm, overcast winter days when demand is high and power has to be generated from other sources.
Another key piece in the puzzle is energy storage. While an increasing variety of short and longer term energy storage solutions are being developed, from ever more sophisticated batteries to use of cooled and liquefied air, these need to be developed on a much more industrial and economically viable scale.
The grid itself also needs have the capacity and the flexibility to cope with rapidly changing scenarios.
This announcement is a key piece for the puzzle, but we still need to sit down and do some hard graft and spend some more hard cash to assemble the rest of it, and to ensure that the lights stay on the UK in years to come.
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