Ready, or not, for windpower?

By KelvinR

At the recent annual conference of the UK’s opposition Labour Party, shadow energy minister Huw Irranca-Davies proclaimed that Britain was “wind ready ­– we are ready to go”.

Windpower, he said, was “competitive on costs, tried and tested, market ready and deliverable”.

A week later, Conservative MP Phillip Lee, a member of the government’s Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, maintained Britain had “missed the boat on wind. The Danes did it, the Germans did it and now the Chinese are going to do it.” The UK, he claimed, had “taken a punt on offshore wind” when it should have been looking at the “no-brainer” of marine energy.

Who’s right? Well both and neither. Britain is wind ready in as much as many installations, particularly onshore, are up and running. But it’s nowhere near ready to roll out the electricity needed to deliver the renewable targets the UK has set itself, not least because the manufacturing base and associated infrastructure is not yet in place.

But that doesn’t mean Britain has missed the boat. The good ship Renewables hasn’t sailed yet and while there are many who will say you shouldn’t get on board without a good lifejacket, there’s no reason to assume that it won’t make steady progress to 2020 and beyond.

The probelm is that Britain’s energy roadmap faces too many potential potholes, not to mention a good few possible shortcuts that may be missed.

If shale gas is proven to be viable, is there scope for it to be incorporated into the UK’s energy targets? And if there is, will the country’s planning regime allow for large scale drilling under land that could have many owners whose consent would be needed? The same goes for the vertical axis wind turbines that have undergone testing in the US. Both could be game-changers… but only if the rules of the game allow them to play.