WWF: Offshore wind is crucial part of the solution

Offshore wind is a key component of the UK government's current energy strategy (Source: Flickr/Andjohan)

In the second half of our offshore wind debate, Nick Molho, Head of Energy Policy at WWF UK, explains why offshore wind must play a part in the future energy mix.

You can read the first part of the debate here.

The world is at a crossroads if it is serious about wanting to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

The literature highlighting the urgent need to decarbonise our economies is plentiful but one of the most striking warnings of late came from the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook .

The IEA, hardly known for being zealous green advocates, warned that in the absence of rapid investment in zero carbon technologies such as renewables, the infrastructure we will have in place by 2017 will produce all the carbon dioxide that we can afford to see emitted if we want to limit global average temperature rises to within 2C.

Why is offshore wind important?

Whilst there are plenty of other renewable technologies that should be harnessed to decarbonise our power sectors, offshore wind has a massive potential.

In the case of the UK for example, the Offshore Valuation Report recently estimated that marine renewables, of which offshore wind is a key component, could meet the UK’s current electricity needs six times over.

Similar findings were made in WWF UK’s recent Positive Energy report , which showed that renewables could meet well over 60% of UK electricity demand by 2030.

Energy security is another big reason to support offshore wind.

Take the example of the UK.

Despite the calls made by some observers urging the UK to make another dash for gas, the UK is already massively over-reliant on gas, with 46% of the UK’s electricity coming from gas in 2010 and 80% of the UK’s 26.2 million homes using gas for heating.

Putting aside the incompatibility of another dash for gas with the need to substantially reduce power sector emissions, do we really think that increasing the UK’s dependence on gas even further is a good way of guaranteeing our energy security?

Add to this the very unrealistic technical and economic projections that are being made on future nuclear new build and it’s clear that we have to look at other technologies such as offshore wind to play an important role in providing large amounts of sustainable zero carbon power.

How can we turn offshore wind into a viable solution?

Investment certainty, strategic planning and a portfolio approach to dealing with intermittency are key factors that can help turn offshore wind into a long-term viable solution to our clean energy needs.

Investment certainty, through clear volume targets and stable time-limited financial support mechanisms, has a key role to play in lowering the cost of capital, incentivising companies to increase spending in research and the mass production of offshore wind components.

Importantly, it also plays a key role in encouraging companies such as Vestas and Siemens to invest in supply chain factories.

The performance of offshore wind turbines is also improving.

For example the latest 7MW V-164 turbine developed by Vestas, which would produce around three times more power than the first turbines put to sea, and the world’s first floating wind turbine being tested by Statoil Renewables.

When it comes to managing the intermittency of wind power, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change Renewable Energy Review made it clear that “a range of options exist to address intermittency (demand-side response, interconnection, balancing generation [and storage]).

These come at a cost that is likely to be low relative to the costs of generation even up to very high levels of penetrations.” In other words, the costs are manageable.

Offshore wind is not the only solution to our decarbonisation needs but it has a key role to play.

Its technical, cost reduction and economic potentials are huge.

It would be a real shame to not give this industry the initial push it needs to become a long-term economic and sustainable part of our energy mix.

Nick Molho is Head of Energy Policy for WWF-UK

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