How Many Wind Turbines Would Power the UK?
Exciting times are here for renewable energy and wind power in the UK.
Electricity generated from wind power in the UK increased by 715% from 2009 to 2020 and this is only set to increase into the future, with wind power generating more electricity than nuclear in 2018 for the first time in the UK. Since then, electricity generation in the UK from wind power has also overtaken gas for the first time with a third of the UK’s electricity coming from wind in the first three months of 2023.
In 2020, the UK government announced its ten-point plan for a green recovery following the pandemic. First on the agenda is big plans to quadruple offshore wind capacity by 2030. As so, these ‘firsts’ are expected to continue long into the future as the country transitions to more renewable forms of electricity generation.
Here is an overview of where the UK is now and how we need to advance our efforts in wind power to reach this ambitious target.
How much energy is generated by wind power in the UK?
According to National Grid, 2020 was the “greenest year on record” for Britain with record high levels of wind energy being produced. If you’d like more information on the National Grid take a look here.
The UK currently produces over 75 million MWh/p.a. each year from wind energy (enough to power over 20 million homes each year). This energy comes from a mixture of onshore and offshore wind turbines and reduces CO2 emissions by over 32 million tonnes every year. Britain is already the world leader in offshore wind, with more installed capacity than any other country, harnessing the wind power that the UK seas are well placed to produce with the cost of offshore wind power falling by two thirds in the last 5 years.
In the second quarter of 2022, renewable energy accounted for 38.6% of energy generated, 1.3 percentage points higher than the same period in 2021. Of the rises in energy capacity, offshore wind saw the greatest increase of 23% (2.4GW). These advances are helped by the operation of the Hornsea Two project, the world’s largest wind farm that can power 1.4 million homes.
Why is wind energy important?
Climate change is high on the priority list for world leaders and has attracted substantial public interest in recent years. Renewable energy sources like wind power are important for transitioning the UK into a green future and helping to reach the target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As more wind farms are being built, wind energy is becoming a more cost-effective way to switch to renewable energy and reduce the UK’s environmental impact.
How many wind turbines would be required to power the UK?
UK electricity consumption averages out at around 50GW capacity over the year with peak power demand reaching 60GW during the winter. This means the UK would need 7000 large wind turbines to power the whole country. If there were 50 turbines per wind farm, 140 large wind farms would be required to home enough turbines to power the UK. That equates to quadrupling the current number of existing wind farms, which would require a further £50 billion investment from the private and public sector.
For the UK to reach this target by 2030, we would need to install 5 turbines a week this decade. In the past 10 years, capacity of the UK’s offshore turbines has grown from 1GW to 10GW at the start of 2020. Investment is expected to rapidly increase as climate targets come under more scrutiny from the public and media, putting pressure on businesses and world leaders to take action. On top of this, producing wind energy has come down significantly in cost to make it a more appealing investment to energy producers.
Business activity in the wind energy sector
The offshore and onshore wind sectors brought in nearly £6 billion of revenue in 2019. There has been a significant increase of employment within the offshore wind sector in 2019 compared to 2015 with now over 7,200 full-time employees. Employment in onshore wind has remained consistent over the same period with a total of 4,400 employees in 2019.
Orsted have taken drastic action in recent years to accelerate the transition to green energy, particularly in offshore and onshore wind energy. On 31st December 2020, the Hornsea 3 project was approved to create another windfarm that once completed will provide enough energy to power over 2 million homes. As more companies try to achieve Net Zero, we expect projects such as the Hornsea wind farms to become cheaper and attract more businesses to invest in sustainable solutions.
Our thoughts on the future of wind energy
Wind energy is clearly going to be the driving force for renewable growth into the future, in particular offshore wind. While the UK is making steps in the right direction, if it is to meet its ambitious target of quadrupling its offshore wind energy by 2030, actions need to be taken to accelerate the UK into a green revolution.
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