Repowering onshore wind farms – a vital move to bridge the UK’s looming energy gap
25 April 2019
Posted by: Rob Norris
RenewableUK has published a report showing that if the UK is to secure enough low-cost power capacity to meet our carbon targets, new onshore wind turbines will be needed to replace older wind farms. The report warns that more than 8 gigawatts (GW) of onshore wind – which currently generates nearly a fifth (17.5%) of the UK’s entire renewable power output – could be retired over the next two decades, and that new policies are needed to support replacing, or ‘repowering’, these older onshore wind farms.
The UK’s first commercial wind farms were developed in the 1990s and were built to operate for 20-25 years. The new report, “Onshore Wind: The UK’s Next Generation” sets out the case for building new projects with more powerful turbines on existing wind farm sites. Replacing older turbines with more efficient models means that fewer turbines would be installed than are currently operating at each site. The report also advocates other options such as upgrading turbines which are already operating, or allowing existing projects to generate for longer than originally envisaged.
The UK already faces a low-carbon electricity generation gap of up to 18% of the country’s current total electricity demand by 2030, according to the Government’s advisory body the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). RenewableUK’s report warns that if the Government fails to support repowering onshore wind sites, this gap could grow as 8.27GW of onshore wind capacity – enough to meet the power needs of over 5m homes a year – reaches its 25-year expected lifespan.
The warning from industry follows the revelation earlier this month of Government figures showing the UK falling further behind on meeting carbon targets. The CCC is also expected to publish advice next month to tighten the UK’s carbon reduction targets further, in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Under the report’s ‘optimum scenario’, 12GW of replacement onshore wind capacity could be installed, which would help us to fill the energy gap by powering nearly 8m homes a year and contribute to climate targets. That scenario envisages more applications for repowering being approved and more powerful turbines installed. Under the ‘low scenario’, however, just 2.76GW of new capacity would be installed – a net loss of 5.5GW – due to fewer successful planning applications and smaller turbines being used.
The report calls for Government to work with local authorities to bring in supportive policies, including commitments to maintain the current capacity of onshore wind farms in the decades ahead by granting permission for repowering where appropriate. It highlights the fact that other European countries are using increasingly sophisticated onshore wind turbines, yet the UK is currently missing out on the most modern and efficient technology.
RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Emma Pinchbeck said: “This should be an easy win on climate change that cuts emissions and secures cheap power for consumers. The public mood is for more urgent action to tackle climate change and this is a concrete example of where Government can act to avoid backsliding on progress against our carbon reduction targets. We need to see positive policies in place that will keep Britain powered up with clean, affordable electricity”.
“Without new policies from Government we risk losing huge amounts of renewable energy, so repowering onshore wind is critical to cutting our carbon emissions and closing the looming energy gap. Upgrading our infrastructure with modern onshore turbines is good for consumers, as onshore wind is the cheapest form of new electricity available, and brings investment to communities around the UK”.
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UK onshore wind capacity is currently 12,904MW (1,984 operational projects, powering over 8 million UK homes a year, generating 30TWh. More information is available here.
In 2018, onshore wind generated 9.1% of the UK’s electricity. More information is available here.
RenewableUK’s report “Onshore Wind: The UK’s Next Generation” is available here.
The scenarios in the report have been created using a repowering model developed within RenewableUK’s Project Intelligence service. The Project Intelligence service is driven by a comprehensive relational database of UK onshore wind and marine renewable energy projects, global offshore wind energy projects and UK energy storage projects. RenewableUK members can interrogate timelines, contract awards and ownership details of more than 5,500 onshore wind projects above 100kw in size. More information on Project Intelligence is available here.
The Government’s advisory body the Committee on Climate Change, states in its “2108 Progress Report to Parliament” (June 2018). “Generation from committed funding for renewables and Hinkley Point C still leaves a low-carbon generation gap of 50-60 TWh in 2030. This should be filled through continued auctions for low-carbon generation alongside negotiated contracts where appropriate. Indeed, many mature renewables could be brought forward without subsidy or increases in consumer bills if further auctions are run”.
Total UK electricity generation in 2018 = 333.9TWh according to BEIS, therefore 60TWh = 18% of total generation (50TWh = 15%).
Total UK renewable electricity generation = 111.1TWh.
8.27GW of onshore wind generates 19.5TWh a year = 17.55% of renewable energy output.
The Optimum Scenario of 12.03GW of repowered onshore wind would generate 29.12TWh a year (powering 8 million homes a year).
The Intermediate Scenario of 6.03GW would generate 14.57TWh a year (powering 4 million homes a year).
The Low Scenario of 2.76GW would generate 6.65TWh a year (powering 2 million homes a year.
BEIS “Updated Energy and Emissions Projections 2018” (April 2019) states: “There are projected shortfalls against the fourth and fifth carbon budgets of 139 and 245 MtCO2e respectively”.