Wind energy generation has grown very quickly in the UK over the past ten years, and for good reason. It’s a promising source of renewable energy that is being harnessed to power homes and businesses with green electricity. As the cost of wind power continues to drop, consumers can expect greater access to sustainable electricity.
How is wind energy generated?
Wind energy is created as a result of changes in the earth’s temperature. The planet’s surface consists of uneven terrain, such as mountains, hills and oceans. This creates variations in air temperature throughout the globe. The uneven heating causes warm air to rise, as cold air replaces it. The resulting change in air pressure generates wind, which can be turned into energy thanks to wind farms.
Wind farms are large groups of wind turbines. The turbines typically look like very tall windmills, around 150 metres tall, with propeller-like blades fixed around a central hub. As the blades rotate, kinetic energy is turned into electricity, which is sent to the National Grid. Wind farms can be based onshore (on land) or offshore (out at sea).
Onshore and Offshore wind farms
Onshore wind farms are usually found in areas of open land, such as the countryside and other unpopulated rural areas. They generate most of the UK’s wind power and are less susceptible to damage compared to those offshore. However, due to obstacles such as buildings and hills that can affect airflow, their level of performance depends greatly on location.
Offshore wind farms are constructed at sea where they can take advantage of high wind speeds. Due to their maritime location, offshore wind turbines are built larger and taller than their onshore counterparts. Although turbines in water are more expensive to install than on land, they can generate much more electricity due to higher wind speeds at sea. Since they’re also far away from homes and offices, they also avoid any visual and noise interference.
Reasons why wind energy in the UK has a bright future
Wind is currently the UK’s primary source of renewable energy. Given that the country receives 40% of Europe’s wind, British turbines spin 70 - 80% of the time. Wind energy accounted for 15% of the country’s entire electricity supply in 2018 and powered 12.7 million homes.
Wind energy is also relatively cheap to generate. Offshore wind farms, in particular, cost less to construct than fossil fuel power stations. What’s better is that the cost of wind energy is decreasing. This is evident from the huge 63% drop in operational costs over six years. While it used to cost €177 / MWh (megawatt hour) in 2011, this fell to just €65 / MWh in 2017.
Job creation in the wind power industry has risen in recent years. Project managers, technicians and engineers were among the roles sought after by turbine manufacturers in 2018, when around 42,000 jobs were generated. The renewable industry is predicted to create around 13,000 more jobs by 2020 if the trend is to continue.
Wind energy in the news
Scottish Power recently announced plans to extend its wind farms despite the government’s removal of incentives for new onshore wind projects. The Big Six energy supplier expects the government to bow down to pressure and reverse David Cameron’s decision in 2015, which would facilitate the country’s target of creating a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.
Scottish Power is considering 100 plots of land for development, most of which are located in Scotland. Whitelee and Aberdeen Bay wind farms are just two of the sites which deliver electricity to millions of homes across Scotland.
The future of wind power in Britain
Wind is widely considered to be a very clean source of energy with an extremely low carbon footprint. Comparing its emissions with those from fossil-fuel power stations, just one wind turbine displaces 2,365 tonnes of CO2 every year. If the UK Government is to meet its target of a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, Britain will need to build at least 1,000MW of onshore wind projects every year for the next thirty years.
Most of the UK’s population backs the development of wind power, with support from 79% of survey respondents between 18 to 44 years old. Public support is in line with increased investment in this sector. According to the UK Minister for Energy and Industry, Richard Harrington, £17.5bn will be invested in offshore wind.
The expansion of wind power in Britain is an encouraging step towards a cleaner environment and affordable green electricity. As operating costs decrease, new opportunities will emerge not just in terms of wind turbine construction but also national grid upgrades to make the green energy transition a reality. The future of wind energy in the UK is looking brighter than ever.