POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Developments in Wind Power

Published Thursday, May 23, 2019

UK power generation from wind has increased in recent years due to sharp reductions in the costs of constructing and operating wind power facilities. Onshore wind power provides the cheapest electricity of any form of new generation built, and offshore is expected to continue to reduce in cost. Generating wind power does not emit greenhouse gases, hence future growth will help the UK meet its GHG emissions reduction targets. This POSTnote examines the innovations that have enabled wind power cost reductions, associated policy considerations and challenges for future deployment.

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Key points in the POSTnote include:

  • Wind power has grown rapidly in the past 10 years. In 2018, onshore and offshore turbines generated 17% of UK electricity. Wind is a key part of UK greenhouse gas emissions reduction plans.
  • Increasing turbine size, cheaper finance, and more efficient construction and operations have reduced costs substantially.
  • The UK Government supports offshore wind with competitive subsidies, which have enabled cost reductions to date. Further support has been pledged in the 2019 Offshore Wind Sector Deal, and the sector is projected to continue growing.
  • New onshore projects do not receive the same government support and are subject to more complex planning requirements. Onshore wind is not expected to grow by much without changes in these policy areas.
  • Although wind power is a key component of UK climate change mitigation ambitions, poorly sited farms can have negative impacts on some species of birds and bats.

In 2018, onshore and offshore wind farms combined generated 17% of UK electricity. The UK has installed the largest offshore wind capacity in the world, in part aided by government subsidies which have helped to reduce costs. The UK Government has pledged further support as part of a joint government-industry programme, the Offshore Wind Sector Deal, announced in March 2019.

Cost reductions between 2015 and 2017 allowed developers to sell power from most new projects in 2017 at a price that was 50% lower than 2015 projects. The factors enabling this trend include improved turbine designs, new construction techniques, more efficient operations and increased power production. In particular, increases in turbine size and design standardisation have helped developers install new farms at lower cost.

New offshore wind projects are eligible to bid for a “Contract for Difference”, which provides generators with a guaranteed price for electricity sold (usually amounting to a subsidy). These and previous subsidy schemes have helped the sector become more efficient and competitive. However, no CfD funding or any other subsidy is available for new onshore wind projects. This, along with what many commentators perceive to be a restrictive planning regime, have led to the likely stalling of new onshore wind installations in the near future.

Acknowledgments

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including

  • Ben Springhall, BEIS*
  • Rob Saunders, Innovate UK*
  • David Hytch, Innovate UK*
  • Gavin Smart, ORE Catapult
  • David Wallace, ORE Catapult
  • Colin Maciver, Crown Estate Scotland
  • Baroness Brown of Cambridge, House of Lords
  • Barnaby Wharton, RenewableUK
  • Benj Sykes, Ørsted 
  • Richard Crossick, Ørsted*
  • Rhodri James, Equinor
  • Torkel Sjoner, Equinor
  • Nicholas Harvey, National Grid
  • Michael McLaughlin, National Grid
  • Jan Matthiesen, Carbon Trust
  • Dr Bruce Hall, ONYX InSight
  • Dr Evgenia Golysheva, ONYX InSight
  • Dr Robert Gross, Imperial College London*
  • Dr Matthew Hannon, University of Strathclyde*
  • Prof Simon Hogg, Durham University
  • Philippa Roddis, University of Leeds*
  • Dr David Reiner, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Karoline Rogge, University of Sussex
  • Dr Aly McCluskie, RSPB
  • Dr James Pearce-Higgins, BTO*
  • Dr Dan Van der Horst, University of Edinburgh
  • Prof Jun Liang, Cardiff University
  • Members of the POST Board*

 

* Denotes contributors who acted as external reviewers of the briefing

POSTnotes POST-PN-0602

Authors: Charalampos Michalakakis; Jack Miller

Topics: Climate change, Countryside, Electricity, Energy, Manufacturing industries, Marine environment, Planning, Renewable energy, Research and innovation, Science, Wildlife

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.