As news breaks of a multi-billion Euro investment in nuclear power, we ask if the UK is still in a position to rule over Europe’s offshore revolution – or if it’s about to give up its crown…
On paper, the UK should be the world leader in wind energy generation, with the biggest wind resource in Europe, an advanced energy infrastructure and for years a technological lead in developing turbine technology.
Yet the UK has fallen to eighth place in the world in terms of wind generation capacity installed. It is falling among EU member states in the proportion of electricity generated from wind: 4.5% compared with an EU average of 6.3%.There are no indigenous UK wind turbine manufacturers and almost no basic manufacturing takes place in the country: most of the turbines are assembled from components built overseas.
The reasons are numerous: a chopping and changing subsidy regime, restrictive planning regulations, the cushion of North Sea gas and a hesitant investor base. But key to all is a lukewarm reception to wind from politicians and sections of the public. Where other countries, from Germany and Spain to China and India, have seized their opportunities to kickstart lucrative industries, the UK blew an early technological lead in wind and failed to capitalise on its natural resources.
“The UK took a long time to get up and running [in wind], to become competitive and a good place to invest in onshore wind,” said Keith Anderson, chief corporate officer of Scottish Power. “For years we did not have an attractive [subsidy] mechanism, and didn’t manage to push forward.”
The grumbles of opposition to wind came to a climax recentloy. The letter to the prime minister calling for wind subsidies to be cut, signed by more than 100 Tory MPs, was the culmination of months of campaigning from a coalition of free-market thinktanks, politicians, special interest groups and sections of the media, creating an anti-wind backlash that has reached nearly the highest echelons of government.
And the UK’s wind sector – already worth billions a year to the economy, but with the promise of further overseas investment that could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and develop a world-beating industry – is worried.
“This is a concern,” said Magued Eldaief, managing director at GE Energy in the UK, who added that the company was watching political developments “very closely”. His views were echoed by nearly all of the major wind companies looking to invest in the UK.